Friday, November 20, 2015

And What Is Truth? Reflections on the Reign of Christ (22 November 2015)

And What Is Truth?

The Reign of Christ
22 November 2015

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
         Ninety years ago Pope Pius XI looked out on the world from his sanctuary in the Vatican and beheld the gathering clouds of international conflict.  In Russia the civil was between the Bolsheviks led by Lenin and the so-called 'White Russians' aided by the Western powers had come to a bloody end.  The Bolsheviks actively were persecuting religious communities and clergy were being arrested and, in some cases, summarily executed.
         Six years earlier the Treaty of Versailles had brought to end the First World War and had precipitated the collapse of the Ottoman Empire that had extended from the Balkans through Saudi Arabia and parts further east.  A new secular state had taken hold in what is now Turkey and the rest of the Middle East had been divided between the French and the British.  In Palestine, a British protectorate, tensions were rising as a growing number of Jewish immigrants and refugees began to arrive.
         In Germany a decorated but disgruntled Austrian war veteran by the name of Adolf Hitler had taken over the leadership of a fringe political movement that had attempted to overthrow the government of Bavaria.  During his imprisonment Hitler wrote and published Mein Kampf ('My Struggle'), his manifesto which gained his movement more members and growing influence.
         The Pope was facing his own challenges in Italy.  In 1922 the Fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, had taken power.  Civil liberties were curtailed and the political power of the Roman Catholic Church was under siege.  Eventually Pius would be forced to sign a treaty which would grant the independence of the Vatican, one-square mile in the heart of Rome, at the cost of all papal claims to political power elsewhere in Italy.
         Pius responded to this turmoil by declaring that the last Sunday in October of 1925 would be celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King.  His motives were certainly mixed.  On the one hand, Pius hoped that this new feast would galvanize Roman Catholic opposition to the Fascist government.  It did not.  On the other hand, the new feast did encourage Roman Catholic Christians throughout the world to remember to whom their ultimate loyalty was owed.
         In the years following the Second World War, Pius' liturgical innovation captured the theological imagination of other Christians.  So here we are, ninety years after the first celebration of this feast, joining with the overwhelming majority of Christians, East and West, Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic, remembering to whom we owe our primary allegiance and to what vision of the future we are committed to work --- the Reign of Christ.
         Some people will think it naive to speak of the 'reign' of Christ in the aftermath of the human disasters that have afflicted humanity over the past nine decades.  Even now, in the aftermath of the senseless terrorist acts in Beirut, Nairobi, Baghdad, Paris, Nigeria and Mali, I would not be surprised to have my non-Christian friends express some skepticism.
         But today's gospel reminds us that the reign of Christ differs from any other form of sovereignty we know.  Christ reigns in the hearts of individuals who have been persuaded by his teaching and example rather than coerced by threats and violence.  All around us we see religious and secular groups who rely upon force to compel others to conform to their ideology or twisted counterfeit of religion.  In the face of these groups, Christians proclaim that God,  through the words of the Scriptures, through the witness of Christ's life and death, and, even more importantly, through the witness of the Christian people, past, present and future, invites human beings to share in God's work of re-creation, reconciliation and renewal.
         This is the truth that Christ speaks of when confronted by the imperial power of Rome embodied in Pontius Pilate.  And we, who live in the here and now, are the ones whom Christ expects will answer Pilate's weary and cynical question, 'And what is truth?'
         Some years ago, Alan Boesak, the South African theologian, spoke words which I wish to share with you today.  They express more eloquently than mine the truth we have to share.
It is not true that this world and its people are doomed to die and be lost.  This is true: for God so loved the world that God gave the only Son so that everyone who believes in him shall not die, but have everlasting life.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction.  This is true: I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred shall have the last word, and that war and destruction have come to stay for ever.  This is true: for to us a child is born, to us a son is given, in whom authority will rest, and whose name will be Prince of Peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil that seek to rule the world.  This is true: to me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the church, before we can do anything.  This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all people, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young people shall see visions, and your old folk shall dream dreams.

It is not true that our dreams of liberation of humankind, our dreams of justice, of human dignity, of peace, are not meant for this earth and its history.  This is true: the hour comes, and it is now, that true worshippers shall worship God in spirit and truth. [i]

         So, my friends, do not be discouraged and do not despair.  These are, as Jesus says in last week's gospel, the birth-pangs of God's coming reign of justice and peace.  Painful --- yes.  Incomprehensible --- often.  Anger-provoking --- always.  Fear-producing --- of course.  But God's truth will triumph and that truth shall set all God's children free.

[i] Imaging the Word:  An Arts and Liturgy Resource (United Church Press, 1995), Volume 2, alt.

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