Crown him the Lord of Peace…

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Updated on “Christ the King” Sunday, November 20, 2022.

ADDENDUM: Once again, we come to the end of the Liturgical Calendar. It is the “Last Sunday After Pentecost” more widely known as “Feast of Christ the King.” The blogpost below was written two years ago on this occasion at the end of “Year A.” We are now finishing “Year C” today, and starting next Sunday we begin all over again at “Year A.”

Last year on this occasion, I was asked to give the sermon at St. Martin’s Episcopal in Charlotte. (A few years ago, our Bishop – for reasons I still cannot quite explain – appointed me as a licensed “Lay Preacher” for the Diocese of North Carolina.) I’ve not done this before on this blog, but here is a link to that “Christ the King” service from a year ago and my sermon on the gospel lesson for Year B, from John 18:33-37. (The sermon starts at 16:49 of the video. https://youtu.be/aup9of0nb74 )

Original Post from November 22, 2020…

Today marks the last Sunday of the traditional church calendar year. Mainline liturgical churches start all over again next Sunday with the First Sunday of Advent (moving from “Year A” in the Common Lectionary into “Year B” for those keeping score). Traditionally this last Sunday After Pentecost is known as “Christ the King” Sunday, and indeed it is a time for reflecting on the passage of time, and a time to imagine the end of time, and how Christ Jesus is to establish his reign for all time.

In 2020, the concept of “king-ly” power on earth has become anachronistic at best. In America especially, the notion of a God-appointed monarchy and ruler (despite what might be suggested in some circles, thankfully isolated) is a particularly prickly subject. After all, our nation was founded by getting rid of a king’s power over our “free and independent states.”

Maybe that is one reason I find it difficult to wrap my heart and soul around the moniker “Christ The King.” Not only that, but beyond my contemptuous aversion against authoritarian monarchs of any stripe, the discussion of “Christ the King” is often presented as an apocalyptic story of that one cataclysmic day when suddenly “the Rhapsody will cometh” with lots of horsemen on fiery chariots and cherubim and seraphim singing endlessly to “the Lamb upon the throne.” Such an existence, regardless of all the “green screen” special effects that might have to come with it to keep up with the book of Revelation, might well be infinitely better in so many ways than our current state of being in 2020. Even so, my sardonic and distrustful lawyer-brain cannot come close to believing in a “second coming” that is somehow filled with the literal emptying of graves, accompanied with clouds of fire and the sun turning to black and seven angels with seven trumpets pouring out seven bowls of God’s wrath.

The older I get, the more I’m thinking that maybe the “second coming” of Christ, the establishment of “Christ’s Kingdom” has very little to do with what the world might look like when God tries to out-do the latest CGI and VFX in the next Avengers release. Rather, I am more and more drawn to a cock-eyed notion that the true “second coming” of Jesus has much more to do with what the world might be like powered by the force of Love.

When I get all worked up, as I often do, over the world’s absurdities and cruelties (especially these days with the inability or unwillingness of so many people accepting or even acknowledging facts that they might find unpleasant or inconvenient to their myopic selfishness), it comes to me as sheer Grace to be reminded of the kingdom that Jesus conveyed to his disciples and followers over and over again. Even standing condemned before Pilate, knowing surely that crucifixion lay ahead with the answer he was about to give, Jesus quietly and simply but defiantly replied to Pilate (and to the millenia of generations to follow) regarding the question of whether in fact he felt he was a king…

“My kingdom,” he said, “is not of this world.”

And so it is that followers of Jesus in this world, the only one we really know and are forced to walk around each day, are left to ponder what to do with this world. Can it be that THIS world – here and now – is the one that is to be built into the “Kingdom of Heaven” that Jesus spoke about so much while walking in this world?

I have heard it said that the term often translated in English Bibles as “Kingdom of Heaven” in the New Testament can also be translated as “Realm of Love.” If indeed that is the case, then THAT is something even my lawyer brain can not only accept, but fervently yearn will bring about an everlasting reign for “Christ the King,” a veritable “second coming” of tough, powerful, radical and relentless love.

An obscure verse from the traditional iconic hymn for this Sunday says it well, I think:

Crown Him the Lord of peace,
Whose power a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease,
And all be prayer and praise.
His reign shall know no end,
And round His pierced feet
Fair flowers of glory now extend
Their fragrance ever sweet.

Thy kingdom come.

…the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son.

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Today is a special day to remember and celebrate all those special people in our lives who now (to borrow a wonderful phrase of liturgy) “celebrate with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light.”

Yesterday was All Saints Day. Today is the lesser known companion feast of “All Souls Day” or the “Feast of the Faithful Departed.” The collect for this day contains one of the those small phrases of liturgy that can so easily be passed over, but sometimes just do not…

God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Lighting candles on All Souls Day for “The Faithful Departed” is one of the many ways to celebrate and remember “those we love but see no longer.”

Whereas All Saints Day is more corporate and global and historical, celebrating “that vast multitude that no one can number,” the emphasis during All Souls Day is more personal, intended to honor a particular loved one or small set of intimate loved ones.

I’m not at all sure why exactly, but for some reason I’ve have been led to rediscover two other collects that at certain times have caused me to stop in my track, taking my breath away. Those times have are remembered for the blessing of hearing those prayers, said just in the right way and just at the right time, when the loss was overwhelming and I was in desperate need of some comforting assurance.

One is from the “Additional Prayers” that appears toward to the end The Burial for the Dead:

Father of all, we pray to you FOR THOSE WE LOVE, BUT SEE NO LONGER: Grant them your peace; let light perpetual shine upon them; and, in your loving wisdom and almighty power, work in them the good purpose of your perfect will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

There is another collect equally moving. Actually, it is heard not only in funeral services but often near the time of death of a loved one. As I’ve written in this blog, it cuts straight to the soul. It is a commendation for someone departing the “here and now” for the “There and Ever After.” It is a commission of sorts, an offering into God’s perfect providence a dear person who will be dearly missed:

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant (Name). Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive (her) into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.
Amen.

Today’s “Feast of the Faithful Departed” is often celebrated by such things as listening to music that a special loved one really enjoyed, or preparing and savoring the food they found especially satisfying, or maybe wearing an article of their clothing, or carrying a personal item they treasured.

Whether it is by any of these special activities or simply pausing for a meaningful moment of reflection and gratitude, may each of us — on this “All Souls Day” — be granted the good Grace to reflect upon those bountiful gifts of Grace that we received from those lovely and loving special persons “whom we love but see no longer.”

The glorious liberty to which you call all your children…

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Today (July 20) in the Episcopal Church calendar, we remember and honor and reflect upon the lives of four remarable women whom we VERY MUCH need to remembered right now.

Four remarkable women we rightly remember and honor, especially for these times, for much-needed “vision and courage to stand against oppression and injustice…”

Especially this year and especially during these very troubling times of late, with so many feeling rightly supressed under the thumb of minority rule, the stories of ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, AMELIA BLOOMER, SOJOURNER TRUTH, and HARRIET TUBMAN shine as a lighthouse of hope and a testament to the power of prayer and persistence.

Each of these women, each in their own way, faced oppression and injustice and took whatever steps they could, whenever they could and however the could to liberate and uplift others, changing American history in the process.

The appointed collect on this “Feast Day for Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner and Harriet” is truly a prayer for our time:

O God, whose Spirit guides us into all truth and makes us free: Strengthen and sustain us as you did your servants Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner, and Harriet. Give us vision and courage to stand against oppression and injustice and all that works against the glorious liberty to which you call all your children; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

That we may know him (or her) who calls us each by name…

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Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, traditionally known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” a day when the Church recognizes and rejoices, through scripture and hymns and prayers, the special guidance, sure protection, relentless pursuit and loving care of God and Christ as a “good shepherd.”  It is a metaphor that runs through both the Old and New Testaments.

Jesus the Good Shepherd
…just like the Best. Mom. Ever!

It doesn’t happen often (Easter being a movable feast after all) but it does happen, when “Easter 4” falls on an early Sunday in May. For those special years, a marvelous combination of traditions occurs, when much of secular society celebrates “Mother’s Day.” It is a time of giving thanks and paying tribute to those special women in our lives who have supplied those same traits of a “good shepherd” — guiding, protecting and caring for each of us in unique, and uniquely needed, ways.

The psalm appointed for today is probably the best known of all psalms, the 23rd, proclaiming “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and praising a protective, attentive God providing all our real needs. The appointed Gospel speaks of Jesus as a shepherd who calls each of us his sheep by name, and whose voice we know. (John 10:22-30)

Even for those who — for any one of an infinite number of reasons — were not fortunate enough to have an earthly mother able to nurture them, many have been blessed with some motherly figure (sometimes more than one) who “shepherded” us through much of the “valleys” and “shadows of death” in our lives. It makes Mother’s Day a time of special significance.

It is an unusual joy, then, when church and secular calendars align just right, and we are called to focus an “attitude of gratitude” not just for our earthly moms but also our Heavenly Creator God. This awesome God (whom our patriarchal tradition often calls “Father” but Who of course transcends beyond all gender) so frequently reminds me of certain things, I think, if I could only be more open to them. Despite my cynical lawyer’s streak, I am coming to believe more and more that we are indeed creatures of Love, created for Love by a Creator Who is Love, and Who wraps perfectly loving arms around each precious creature…just like the Best. Mom. Ever!

Growing up, somehow I could pick out my mom’s voice over all other voices whenever she cried out to me, especially when calling me by name. (If ever my middle name was included, I knew I had better come running!) I suspect I am not alone in having such precious memories. So it is not surprising that today’s collect for this Good Shepherd Sunday, with its special timing this year honoring all moms, earthly and heavenly, bears special resonance.

“O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

…for those we love but see no longer.

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One of the greatest gifts of liturgy, much like a powerful poem or memorable speech, is the way a simple succinct phrase within it can sometimes reveal a depth of experience or emotion that is almost beyond words to truly capture. Just a few words, expressed in just the right way at just the right time in just the right circumstances, can express an intimate knowledge and awareness that says to the hearer “I think I know some of what you are feeling, what you are going through…I’ve been there.”

One such phrase comes within one of the “Additional Prayers” that appear toward to the end of the pastoral service for the The Burial of the Dead:

Father of all, we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer: Grant them your peace; let light perpetual shine upon them; and, in your loving wisdom and almighty power, work in them the good purpose of your perfect will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Those eight words “for those we love, but see no longer” capture for me all the tender and bittersweet emotions for those persons especially dear who have ended their time on this planet, and yet still very much alive in my heart. Those eight words speak of special loved ones never again to be gazed upon this side of paradise, except in the mind’s eye and perhaps glimpsed in the most fortunate and happiest dreams.

Earlier this week, on November 1, many liturgical churches celebrated the “Feast of All Saints” most often referred to as “All Saints Day.” It is considered one of the high holy days of the Anglican tradition and is a time to pause and pay special attention to that “great cloud of witnesses” that have come and gone before us on this earthly journey. Often in the All Saints Day service, the names of all the parishioners who have died in the previous year are read aloud, one by one, as a way of remembrance.

The next day, November 2, is the companion feast of “All Souls Day” or the “Feast of the Faithful Departed.” It is more widely recognized in Latin America than the United States. Whereas All Saints Day is more corporate and global and historical, celebrating “that vast multitude that no one can number,” the emphasis during All Souls Day is more personal, intended to honor a particular loved one or small set of intimate loved ones. The Feast of the Faithful Departed is celebrated with such things as listening to music they especially liked, or preparing and enjoying the food they found especially satisfying, or wearing an article of their clothing or carrying a personal item they treasured. It is a common practice to place a picture of the departed by a candle for the day.

Most often in most Episcopal churches in the U.S., the two days are celebrated as one on “All Saints Sunday” — which happens to be today. It seems an especially appropriate time then to embrace such a prayer as the one above, and indeed, to let it embrace us.