Fr. Andrew Armond – The Twenty-Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, November 21, 2021
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’ll never forget the time when I was a kid, probably about 8 or 9, and my mom walked into our den one Saturday morning. I was an early riser then, and I had probably been up for a while by that point. For whatever reason, instead of watching cartoons that morning, I was reading. I read a lot, and my mother was an elementary school librarian, so naturally, she asked me what I was reading. It was the Book of Revelation.
Revelation is sometimes perceived as difficult, and violent, and strange. It’s been the source of endless speculations and end-times prophecies. But it is appointed for today, Christ the King Sunday, because it actually has a strong word of comfort and hope in the midst of danger, difficulty, and fear.
In 70 AD, approximately 40 years after Jesus’s death, the city of Jerusalem was in complete chaos. There had been skirmishes for four years by this point in what would later be called “The Jewish War”: a revolt against Roman rule that was already brewing during Jesus’s time, as the Jewish middle class was being taxed, bullied, and imprisoned out of existence to support the aspirations of the wealthy ruling class.
By July of that year, the city of Jerusalem had been under siege for four months. As a historian and eyewitness to those events, a Jewish Roman official named Josephus wrote about this truly apocalyptic scene. The four horsemen of the apocalypse were indeed on full display–famine, war, death, and conquest. As Josephus tells the story, the Roman legions themselves began to go mad with hunger and rage. The violence was terrible. Up to five hundred Jews were being crucified each day. The Temple, recently renovated by Herod the Great in order to placate his fellow Jews, was burned, the Holy of Holies desecrated beyond belief.
As one modern historian writes, “the city was tormented by a sense of impending doom, intransigent fanaticism, whimsical sadism, and searing hunger.” And, after the Temple had completely burned, and the city was just a husk, a shell of its former glory, “the Romans carried their eagles on to the Holy Mountain, where King David had placed the Ark of the Covenant and where his son Solomon had built the first Temple. There, the Roman soldiers sacrificed to their gods and hailed Emperor Titus as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
I open my sermon with this dismal and depressing historical note in order to get us to feel even a bit of what St. John the Divine, exiled to the island of Patmos, felt as he wrote the Book of Revelation approximately 25 years after this horrific scene. We forget how incredibly fragile and dangerous the claims of early Christians were in this context of fear, violence, and brutality.
From the crucified Christ in the year 30 to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70, to John’s exile to the island of Patmos at the close of the first century: the claim that Jesus Christ is King of King and Lord of Lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Creator and Redeemer of the Universe was a startling, shocking, counter-cultural, and revolutionary claim.
And yet it is the claim of St. John the Divine, and it is our claim, the claim that we yearly commemorate and celebrate on this last Sunday of Ordinary Time. As the Church Year winds its way to a close, it takes us from the beginning to the end, from Advent and Christmas through Epiphany, Holy Week, and Easter. It carries us along through Ordinary Time on the journey of faith, and it always wraps up with the apocalyptic literature of the Bible, forcing us to consider that our Lord Jesus is both that tiny baby in the manger whom we will celebrate in six weeks, and also the exalted Cosmic Christ, the One who reigns over all, the One, as we repeat weekly in the Creed, who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and whose kingdom will have no end.
What is truly inspiring about the book of Revelation is the incredible power of its witness to the claim of Jesus Christ to be the Lord and Savior of all, and what a comfort these words must have served to the earliest Christians undergoing violent persecution at the hands of the Romans. St. John the Divine reminded them that Jesus had already conquered the Powers of the Age and that Jesus alone IS the true King, Lord, Caesar, and ruler of the universe. Such a reminder did not take away their difficulties and challenges, but it reminded them that there was a solid bedrock, the kingship of Christ, under the shifting sands of the political rulers of the day.
At the risk of sounding like an English teacher again, let me draw your attention to the tenses in our passage from Revelation. Notice that twice, John calls Jesus the one who is and who was and who is to come, echoing the Divine Name that God pronounced to Moses and that Jesus claimed in John’s Gospel, the I AM. That name means that God always precedes and follows us wherever and whenever we go. To call Jesus the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, means that he envelops us with his Love, the Love that preceded us into this world and that will embrace us fully at our end.
Jesus is the one who loves us in the present tense. As we float along the ocean of time, Jesus promises to be with us at every single moment of our lives. There is no time in which we can escape the loving presence of God in Jesus Christ. And Jesus is the one who freed us and made us to be a kingdom of priests. Because of the present reverberations of God’s actions in the past, we are freed from sin and already–already, right now, at this very moment–made part of God’s ongoing reign of Grace and Peace.
Christ the King Sunday reminds us that our God reigns, even over those places in our world that seem dark, chaotic, and malevolent. Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the chaotic deep in the first chapter of Genesis, the renewing Spirit of God continues to hover over the face of the chaotic violence and hatred of this world. St. John the Divine pronounces the final words of Christian Scripture as a rousing and inspiring conclusion to the Creation story. God created all things and pronounced them good; God redeemed all things through Christ and made them good; and God will one day be fully known and fully realized to us in a re-created world that is pure goodness, beyond our wildest imagining.
And so: All earthly kings, all earthly leaders, all earthly plans falter and fail. They fail in many ways, but one of the most obvious is that they fail to tell the truth. Jesus the king tells Pilate, the representative of Imperial Rome and thus of the ways of this world, that the kingdom of God, the kingship of Christ, testifies only to the truth. It speaks only the truth. And we, the followers of that kingdom, listen for God’s truth among the brokenness of our world, and in the brokenness of our own lives.
On this last Sunday of the Church Year, we rededicate ourselves to listening for the truth from God about our world and about ourselves. That truth is light, and life, and love. That truth is that though we fail our Lord in myriad ways, our King Jesus does not sit in an earthly palace that will pass away, apart from our fears, our hopes, and our needs. Our King Jesus is the Crucified One, the One who knows our pains and sorrows, the one who always offers himself to us, time after time after time, coming to us with forgiveness, mercy, and love; and coming to us, here, in his Body and Blood. May we come today to be renewed and restored by our true King.