Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, November 25, 2018 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

2 Samuel 23:1-7

Psalm 132: 1-13

Revelation 1:4b-8

John 18:33-37

 

We have come, once again, to the end of our story. We move from “Are you the King of the Jews?” today to “Come, o come, Emmanuel” next week. The story of the God who became human, who lived as one of us and died a criminal’s death is now enthroned in heaven as ruler and savior of humankind. Alpha and Omega.

We don’t do very well with this image of Jesus, I don’t think. There is an element of judgment, which makes us uncomfortable, and we much prefer the soft, fuzzy Jesus of the manger and the one who loves the children to this rather remote, transcendent Christ.

Yet it is the end result of the crucifixion and resurrection. Pilate himself had placed on the cross the words, “King of the Jews.” When the religious leaders objected and asked him to change it to “This mansaid, I am the king of the Jews,” Pilate responded, “What I have written, I have written” (John 19:21-22). Jesus was crowned the King of Glory by the very powers that nailed him to the cross.

 

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Over the past couple of weeks, Tim and I have had the pleasure of spending some time with dear friends of ours from England whom we do not see nearly often enough. David Porter is the Chief of Staff for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. I met David in my first semester of divinity school when he was the Canon for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral. We got to know both David and his wife Fran during an internship I did for a couple of weeks the following summer as I provided some organizational consulting in exchange for learning everything I could about the reconciliation ministry at Coventry. David comes to reconciliation ministry as an anabaptist from Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he spent years working to bring the warring sides of “the Troubles” together in what ultimately became the Good Friday Agreement. Now he just works to bring the warring sides of the Anglican Communion together, and it’s not really all that different!

I told you a bit about Coventry a few weeks ago when I spoke of the Chapel of Unity at Coventry Cathedral and how it has a view of the baptismal font but not the high altar. Given that this Sunday is designated at Christ the King, or the Reign of Christ, depending on your preference, and that a gigantic 75-foot high tapestry of Christ in Glory dominates one end of the cathedral, and given that we have just passed the 78thanniversary of the destruction of the medieval cathedral in Coventry, it seems a good time to reflect on what the transcendence of Christ actually signifies on this final Sunday in Pentecost in the year 2018.

Just over a month after the Luftwaffe struck terror into the heart of England during the blitz of 1940, the then provost of Coventry Cathedral, Dick Howard, speaking from the ruins on Christmas Day, vowed to reach out a hand of friendship to the German people following the war, hoping to build “a kinder, more Christ-like world.”[1]It was not a popular opinion at the end of 1940, but Provost Howard was true to his word, and the first connections began shortly after the war with the cities of Kiel, Dresden, and Berlin. These partnerships were sealed with the presentation of a Cross of Nails created from the iron nails that were part of the construction of the medieval cathedral that had been collected from the ruins.

In the days following the bombing, charred roof timbers were found to have fallen in the shape of a cross, and they were set up in the ruined apse of the old cathedral where a replica of them remains to this day (the originals are in the “new” cathedral completed in 1962). Not long after, the words “Father forgive” were inscribed on the wall of the chancel. These were not the words Jesus spoke from the cross – Father, forgive them –  but simply Father forgive, because Provost Howard understood that we are all complicit in the violence and destruction in our world. The Litany of Reconciliation that includes the words “Father forgive” is still prayed every Friday in the cathedral ruins and in other faith communities around the world, including St. Luke’s Chapel at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale where I first prayed these words.

The litany begins: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And it is here, in this acknowledgement that God is God and we are not, it is here that Christ in Glory is necessary to our salvation, because we cannot, on our own, save ourselves.

The litany continues:

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,

FATHER FORGIVE

The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,

FATHER FORGIVE

The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,

FATHER FORGIVE

Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,

FATHER FORGIVE

Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,

FATHER FORGIVE

The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,

FATHER FORGIVE

The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,

FATHER FORGIVE

Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.[2]

 

All of these things for which we ask forgiveness are the ways in which we have corrupted our humanity through the effects of sin. And so we turn to the one who can forgive us, and plead “Father forgive.” (Or, to update that language, we might pray “God forgive.”)

 

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Provost Howard of Coventry Cathedral was very clear in where his allegiances rested – forgiveness, reconciliation, and unity in the name of Jesus Christ. Just before our reading of John begins this morning, the religious leaders are clear where theirs rested: “We have no king but the emperor. Crucify him” (John 19:15).

I think the question still remains to us. Where do our allegiances lie? Do we think that power and privilege and money and prestige can save us? Or is our hope in the God who died in order that we might live? This may not be warm, fuzzy Jesus. But any savior who can conquer the sin of thisworld has to be powerful beyond our imagining.

In his interrogation of Jesus, Pontius Pilate tries to bait Jesus into declaring himself king. If he could only make him say those treasonous words, he would feel justified in the punishment he is about to hand down. But Jesus won’t bite. Even in the great distress of the moment, knowing that the cards were all stacked against him, knowing what the outcome would be, even then, Jesus refuses to bend. “My kingdom is not from this world” (John 18:36). It’s his way of saying that Pilate holds no power over him, even if he has the power to kill his mortal body.

Next week, we can begin, again, to retell the story of our salvation once again until the day the Reign of Christ comes on earth as it is in heaven.

Christ transcendent. Christ in glory. King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and he shall reign forever. Come, Lord Jesus. Hallelujah. Amen.

[1]http://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/ccn/read-our-story/

[2]http://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/ccn/the-coventry-litany-of-reconciliation/

ASEPSermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, November 25, 2018 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas