By Vicar Lenny Duncan
As I reflect on the readings for “Christ the King” Sunday a few things have occurred to me that I want to share. For some pastors and preachers this can be a problematic text. There is the usual amount of Matthew drawing lines about who is in and who is out.
Then the text takes it up a notch.
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Eternal fire. I mean for those of us who are grace-centric and want the Church to be a healing salve to a wounded world, and no longer the source of hurt, this text is hard to wrestle with.
The typical choice preachers make is to just focus on the first half of the Gospel reading. To solely focus on the incredible promise interwoven in this text: when we walk with those on the margins of society we get to meet the savior of the world. It is on the margins we meet the Son of God.
I was on my way home from a concert last night and I saw Jesus. She was a trans woman of color at the Walnut Locust subway stop here in Philly. Carmel colored skin and smiling, she had just laid down some cardboard and a new looking sleeping bag. She slipped off her heels while chatting with a friend and laughing with abandon.
As a teen I was homeless in that area. I slept on that same corner a few times, and was saved as a 13-year-old many times by trans woman of color.
Ya’ know- Jesus.
Many of us for the sake of “grace” would stop the story there. I mean it saves us from the hermeneutical dancing of the second part of the gospel. Folks, that is straight up cheap grace.
We have been renouncing the devil and his forces since our baptism. What about ordination makes us so squeamish? Will we be only brave on clergy social media groups?
Team, it's simple and true -- White Supremacy is the fire prepared. Hetro Supremacy is the fire prepared. The Gender Binary is the fire prepared. Patriarchy is the fire prepared. Predatory economic systems are the fire prepared.
These things are evil. We need to name it. We need to name it. We are called as shepherds to separate the sheep from the goats. The life giving from the life erasing. The reason is simple: maybe the Kingdom of heaven is here. Maybe these gilded cages of racism, homophobia, transphobia, patriarchy, and perhaps even capitalism are the fire that burns forever. They are hell.
I am trapped by it. You are trapped by it. Whether oppressor or like me oppressed.
So, until a trans woman of color comes down on cloud to save us all, lets visit her in the subway. But let’s also name the evil that put her there. Enjoy Christ the Queen Sunday.
by Cara Holmquist
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14
Christ the King Sunday is probably the youngest feast day in the liturgical year. (I could be wrong.) The Feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, between the World Wars, as secular ideologies swept the globe, and in the thick of sovereignty disputes in Italy. As a modern state took shape around the Vatican, absorbing the last geography of Christendom (which had of course been absorbed by powers before, in Italy and elsewhere), Pius sent an encyclical creating the feast. By the 70’s, it was incorporated into the liturgical practice and lectionaries of denominations around the world.
Christ the King Sunday is one of those teeth-gritting festivals, for me. It so easily skews triumphalist. It so easily skews otherworldly instead of incarnate (looking at you, Pius XI’s encyclical…). It so easily skews theology-of-glory instead of the cross. It so easily skews patriarchal, dominating, and colonial, instead of exposing these sinful tendencies of power.
Yet it’s one of my favorite feasts. It has such… potential. To call us out of so many idolatries that would rule us, and faithless power plays, and paralyzing despair. Celebrating Christ the King Sunday (even deciding what to call the day) is a walk along a razor’s edge. But when we listen to Spirit and one another, when we pay attention to the kind of rule Christ demonstrates, when we craft liturgies with care, the Gospel proclaimed on this day can shake the foundations of the principalities and powers that be. Their days are numbered.
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This week, we contemplate these together: the rule and reign of Christ, and Jeremiah 29.
At this point, chapter 29, we’re well into the book of Jeremiah and the events therein. The king of Judah, Jehoiachin, his immediate family and all his court, along with elites, priests, and skilled workers, have all been taken from their home and off to Babylon. The trauma here cannot be dismissed. Population exchanges and forced migrations disrupt community bonds and identity, by design.
The king’s uncle (Mattaniah, now Zedekiah) has been set up as a puppet king in his place. The trauma here cannot be dismissed. A people plundered, abandoned, and unable to trust their appointed leader. Jeremiah tries to prophesy to and advise Zedekiah and the people of Jerusalem honestly, while butting heads with the politically cunning (false) prophet Hananiah.
Hananiah (who dies at the end of chapter 28) has had an attractive message: this will all blow over soon, God will break the power of the Babylonians, and everyone will come back singing and carrying our treasures. Don’t get too cozy with Nebuchadnezzar, instead, “just keep trusting God…” His platitudes deny reality, and divert the people from the work of healing, which starts with lament.
Jeremiah, the true prophet, bears a very different and difficult word from the Lord: submit to the Babylonians, trust that God has a longer strategy, and oh, if only we had been a just and uncorrupt society… It’s less attractive, but it’s the truth.
And then he does something unprecedented. Jeremiah sends a letter to the people who have been taken to Babylon. There have been so-called prophets among them as well, saying that this captivity is temporary, don’t unpack your stuff.
We don’t know how much communication occurred between those still in Jerusalem and those in Babylon. Official decrees and matters of state, sure. But every party of letter-carriers probably had someone willing to hear, share, carry information less official but not less real. Into the hands of Elasah and Gemariah (v3), young Jews taken into Nebuchadnezzar’s service, Jeremiah entrusts his letter.
It would be reasonable to expect Jeremiah’s letter to foment rebellion, to seed a resistance, to outline civil disobedience strategies. (Elasah and Gemariah may have expected this, even been motivated by desire to bring such a message.) It would be reasonable to expect another diatribe against Babylon and its endless devouring of nations. And there are times and contexts where that is the most faithful thing to do.
But Jeremiah’s letter is an utter shock, then and now. In it, God reasserts Just Who is the King Around Here… you weren’t taken by these Babylonians, I sent you here, and you have something to do. Indeed, I will be with you in this shit. Let’s get to it.
The instructions are both insular - hold onto your holy and distinct cultural identity - and engaged outward: seek this city’s well-being.
As a holy and distinct people, unpack your belongings, and set up households. Plant gardens and eat their produce (yeah independent community food suppliers!). Get married and have children, and help them grow and choose healthy relationships. Dwell here, yes, even here. Build a life. Increase. In the midst of this chaos and void, God is brooding over you here, be fruitful and multiply…Jeremiah’s letter echoes the primordial calling of God’s people.
But also, seek this city’s well-being. It’s fortunes are now your fortunes. This letter is in the heart of the exilic theological revolution, foreshadowing incarnation for the life of the world. God is not bound by borders or bloodlines; other nations are known to, and even cared about, by God; God might be up to something much, much bigger than we’ve previously imagined.
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On Christ the King Sunday, with issues of state and religious power cracked open, with ultimate loyalties pondered, it’s good to have this story in the mix. There are more stories to hold alongside, of civil disobedience and resistance and more (including in Babylon! hello Daniel and Susanna…).
Is it time to build/plant/increase yourselves, to raise consciousness of who you are and who you are called to be? (oh, hey, Decolonize…) Is it time to seek the welfare of the surrounding church and all creation, who might not “get” you and really might not get that you’re for their flourishing, too? (hi again) Is it time to lament, resist, call out, and to tell those who unleash tsunamis of disrespect while hoarding high places to shut the hell up? (hell yes)
Falling as it does at the end of the liturgical year, this Sunday asks us, what time is it, where you are and with your people, and how shall we live faithful to the One who truly reigns?
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