Monday, November 16, 2015

Preacher’s Study – Reign of Christ, Year B, Proper 29 (34)

The Preacher’s Study

Christ the King / The Reign of Christ

John W.B. Hill

2 Samuel 23:1-7;
Psalm 132:1-13, (14 - 19);
Revelation 1: 4b-8;
John 18:33-37

Readings for the Sundays between All Saints Day and Christmas Day focus our attention on the future God has promised for the whole creation, the coming of God’s kingdom, the consummation of history.  Only in the last of these Sundays do the readings point us toward the birth of the King, but this Sunday the readings do focus on kingship, and Israelite kingship is the much contested issue in the Bible which comes to a head on this day.

The Book of Judges makes the case for a monarchy for Israel, pointing out that without a king, “all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (21: 25) — and that had been pretty ugly!  Then Samuel warns the nation that life with a king can get pretty ugly, too (1 Samuel 8: 10 - 18), and the narrative of Israel’s kings pretty much confirms Samuel’s worst fears.  So “the last words of David” in today’s first reading may be very noble, but they sound like the rosy recollections of an aged king who has conveniently forgotten all the dark bits of his career.  Nevertheless, his words capture the longings that have kept the mythology of monarchy alive, even to our own day.

In the gospel reading from the trial of Jesus, Pilate is not yet ready to pass judgment on Jesus, and is still only conducting his inquiry.  The inquiry has reached the critical point: “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus responds by demanding to know what Pilate thinks he means by this question, for Pilate is clearly puzzled, having seen no evidence of the kind of activity he would have expected from a claimant to the throne. Pilate clarifies by insisting that he only means what the accusers of Jesus meant, whatever that is.  “What have you done?” Pilate asks.  In other words, “What have you done that could lead to this outrageous charge?”

Pilate’s puzzlement is understandable.  In his world (i.e., our world) a king (or president, or military junta) secures the ‘kingdom’ by fabricating whatever convenient ‘truth’ will justify the exercise of authority (creating ‘facts on the ground’ as necessary).  In God’s world, a ‘king’ will expose the truth by shining the light of justice and compassion into the dark corners of the world.  That will be a ‘kingship’ unlike any this world could produce, for it will come through God’s grace and initiative.  Those who long for this kind of truth will be delighted to welcome such a kingdom.  If Pilate was anxious about passing judgment on such a ‘king’, it would be with good reason, for sending Jesus to the cross would constitute the enthronement of Caesar’s replacement!

But even though that light shines in the darkness, the world still loves darkness rather than light (John 3: 19). The day will come, however, when “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.”  The reading from Revelation insists that revelation of the truth, not vengeance, will ultimately prevail, and then those who pierced him will wail, for they will no longer be able to justify the ‘kingdom’ they chose to support.

John W. B. Hill is an Anglican presbyter living in Toronto, Canada. He is a Council member of APLM, chair of Liturgy Canada, and author of one of the first Anglican sources for catechumenal practice.

Art: Portion of “What is Truth. Christ and Pilate” - Nikolai Ge

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Prayer Service in Response to Violence in France

Prepared by Jennifer Phillips

Presider:   In the Name of our God Creator, Redeemer,
    and Sanctifier;
People:     Blessed are you, God of love and peace.

A Litany for Peace:

V. God, the Father,
R. Have mercy upon us.
V. Christ, the Prince of Peace
R. Have mercy upon us.
V. Holy Spirit who enlightens the nations,
R. Have mercy upon us.
V. Eternal God of Love,
R. Receive our prayer.

V. Remember, O Lord, the peoples of the world divided into many nations and tongues; deliver us from every evil which obstructs your saving purpose; and fulfill your promises to establish your kingdom of peace. From the curse of war and hatred, and all that cause them,
R. O Lord, deliver us.

V. From believing and speaking lies about other peoples and nations,
R. O Lord, deliver us.

V. From narrow loyalties and selfish isolation,
R. O Lord, deliver us.

V. From fear and distrust of other people and nations, from all false pride, vainglory, and self-conceit.,
R. O Lord, deliver us.

V. From the lust for wealth and domination which can drive peaceful  nations to slaughter,
R. O Lord, deliver us.

V. From putting our trust in the weapons of war, and from want of faith in the power of justice and goodwill.
R. O Lord, deliver us.

V. From every thought, word, and deed which divides the human family and separates us from the perfect realization of your love.
R. O Lord, deliver us.
V. That nations may vie with each other in the service of  humanity and not in seeking dominion.
R. We pray to you, O God.

V. That followers of every religion may practice love, forbearance and peace toward one another.
R. We pray to you, O God.

V. That science may the servant of life and never the servant of death,
R. We pray to you, O God.

V. That the treasure now spent on the engines of war may be used for the arts of peace.
R. We pray to you, O God.

V. That your people may rejoice to endure labor, and want, and death to win, not a war, but your kingdom,
R. We pray to you, O God.

V. That we may love not only our country but also the whole family of nations,
R. We pray to you, O God.

Eternal Father, you show your people the way in which they should: turn our feet from the city of destruction toward the city of God, and redirect our desires and labors in accordance with your will, that we may achieve the new world for which your Son was content to die, even Jesus Christ, our Lord.

A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew (14:22-33)

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying,
“Truly you are the Son of God.”

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Thanks be to God.

O Christ, at your word the wind and waves were stilled: rebuke, we pray, all forms of violence and usher in the day of love and peace among all of God's children, that we may truly serve you who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and works for us unceasingly, now and for ever.  Amen.

"Sois notre lumière dans les ténèbres, Seigneur, et dans ta miséricorde infinie, protège-nous des dangers de la nuit qui vient. Par Jésus le Christ, notre Seigneur. Amen." "Dieu le Père, créateur du ciel et de la terre, Aie pitié de nous. Dieu le Fils, rédempteur du monde, Aie pitié de nous. Dieu le Saint-Esprit, sanctificateur des croyants, Aie pitié de nous. Sainte et bienheureuse Trinité, un seul Dieu, Aie pitié de nous. Seigneur Jésus, ne retiens pas nos péchés, ni ceux de nos pères, ne nous rends pas selon nos offenses. Epargne-nous, Seigneur, Epargne le peuple racheté par ton sang précieux, dans ton amour, protège-nous à jamais.Amen."

" Be our light in the darkness, Lord, and in your infinite mercy, protect us from the dangers of the night that comes. By Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."

" God the father, Creator of heaven and the earth, have mercy on us. God the son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us. God the Holy Spirit, sanctifier believers, have mercy on us. Holy and blessed Trinity, one God, have mercy on us. Lord Jesus, don't hold up our sins, nor those of our fathers, do not make us according to our trespasses. Save us, Lord, spare the people redeemed by your precious blood, in your love, protect us forever. Amen."

Let us pray as our Savior Christ has taught us:
Our Father in heaven
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come; your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
For ever and ever. Amen.

A time of  silence (begun and ended with a chime)

A Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Almighty God, kindle, we pray, in every heart the true love of peace, and guide with your wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth; that in tranquility your dominion may increase, until the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Creator who brought order from chaos give peace to you;
the Savior who stilled the raging storm give peace to you;
the Spirit who brooded upon the deep
give peace to you,
now and for ever. Amen.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Preacher’s Study – Reign of Christ, Year B, Proper 29 (34)

The Preacher’s Study

The Reign of Christ or
Advent III (extended season)

Rex gentium Sunday: “O come, Desire of nations”

William H. Petersen

Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14                           
Psalm 93                                            
Revelation 1.4b-8
John 18.33-37

Established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, the Feast of Christ the King was set on the last Sunday in October and intended to stand over against the totalitarian claims of both communism and fascism. It had also an anti-protestant effect in its location on Reformation Sunday. This was corrected by the ecumenical gesture of Pope Paul VI in 1970 when the feast was transferred to its present day. The revisers of The Book of Common Prayer (1979) incorporated a collect for the feast and its accompanying lections but retained simply the “Proper 29” designation. Less timid Lutherans in the LBW (1978) named the feast, while Canadian Anglicans in The Book of Alternative Services (1985) referred to the last Sunday after Pentecost as “The Reign of Christ.” All of this is relevant if only to show that politics and religion, in fact, remain intermingled regardless of ecclesial establishment or not. Happily, in an expanded Advent the Feast of Christ the King now finds its place not as the end of the Church year, but congruently with Rex gentium (King of nations) Sunday.

The Daniel reading precisely addresses the Divine objection to the claims of any imperial system over the cultures of the human community or the souls of individuals. Though Daniel is rooted in the aftermath of Alexander’s empire 150 years before Jesus, Christians will, of course, see in this coronation scene the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ as set over against such tyrannies. The appointed Psalm 93 (one of the regnal psalms) underscores this emphasis by proclaiming God’s reign as eternal in contrast to the empires of old, or more recently, to put a finer point on it, a “thousand year Reich,” a Soviet “Revolution,” a British “Empire,” an American “imperium,” or an ISIS “hegemony.”

The lection from Revelation serves to make these points explicit. In art we get from this reading the great icons of Christ Pantokrator (All-Ruler) and the magnificent Advent hymn of Charles Wesley, “Lo he comes with clouds descending.”* But with either of these artistic interpretations and in regard to the text itself, it is precisely here that the preacher and the hearers of the sermon must take caution. With the Advent theme of Christ as “Alpha and Omega” we must be wary of falling into triumphalism. To do so will lead inexorably, on the one hand, into theological fantasies of a violent nature (apocalyptic visions of “the end”) or, on the other hand, to complicity with the powers that be (what the Johannine evangelist calls “this world,” meaning those things whose ultimate sanction is death). Some folks, of course, manage both possibilities!

A salutary (pun intended) antidote to these alternatives is provided by the Gospel of the feast. For the scene is Jesus’ trial before Pilate and, as such, it reflects the cost of the justice and peace possible within true kingship over against absolutist tyranny sanctioned by destruction and death. A sic et non may be accorded the translators of this portion of Scripture. The non has to do with their persistent undermining of powerful rhetorical questions by reconstructing them with weak endings: thus Pilate’s “I am not a Jew, am I?” response to Jesus is effectively defused in place of the confrontational rhetoric of “Am I a Jew?” The sic is provided by the better English in Jesus’ insistence that “my kingdom is not from here” rather than that of earlier translations “my kingdom is not of this world.” This former reading is too easily “spiritualized” into something unearthly or only future in its reference. The better translation underscores the claim here made by the Johannine Jesus that “I came into the world to testify to the truth.” It is, however, sadly ironic that the compilers of the lectionary omitted the telling last phrase of the final verse: “Pilate answered him, ‘What is truth?’” The preacher, nevertheless, can make the point that cynical Pilate looked Truth in the face and recognized neither the danger to himself nor his “kingdom” in the death he was about to order.

William H. Petersen is Emeritus Dean & Professor of Bexley Hall Seminary, Founder & Convener of the Advent Project Seminar, and an Honorary Member of APLM Council.

Art: Jacek Malczewski, Christ before Pilate (1910); Aloys Wach, Christ before Pilate


* Though this hymn is a splendid and favorite one for Advent, its singers need to be cautious of placing an Anti-Judaism reading on the second verse where “those who set at nought and sold him, pierced, and nailed him to the tree, deeply wailing, deeply wailing, shall the true Messiah see.” It will be well to hold in mind at the same time the Good Friday hymn “Ah, Holy Jesus” where, as a matter of confession on our part rather than blame on others, we ourselves in the solidarity of human sinfulness discover ourselves to be the betrayers of Christ.