The Just Judge

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
November 26, 2017
The Feast of Christ the King — Year A

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Wall CommunionMy Friends: Two  years ago—and  well before the current contagion of faux populism unleashed its virulent strains of xenophobia, nativism, ethno-nationalism, and incivility into our national life—CBS’s weekly news-magazine 60 Minutes broadcast a highly anticipated interview with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston.  Cardinal O’Malley is one of the nine cardinal-advisors that Pope Francis’ has appointed to his new “kitchen cabinet,” and the Cardinal is the only American prelate on that body.  Because of this position and his personal friendship with Pope Francis, Cardinal O’Malley is regarded by many as a spokesman for the Pope.  He is also a fierce and passionate advocate for the poor, for immigrants, and for refugees.

In the course of that lengthy interview, the Cardinal made many statements of special interest to our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers.  But the most arresting feature of the interview for me was not anything Cardinal O’Malley said; rather, it was the video-clip of his Mass celebrated right against Donald Trump’s beloved “border-fence” between Texas and Mexico.  60 Minutes showed a clip of the Cardinal, joined by other US bishops in full eucharistic vestments, distributing Holy Communion to would-be immigrants and refugees through the tiny openings in that fence.  The fence made it impossible to look into the faces of these desperate people.  Only the small, white host was visible as it passed through the fence’s holes with the words, “The Body of Christ,” spoken in Spanish.  I don’t recall ever witnessing a more vivid and arresting image of the mercy and humility of God in Jesus Christ.  It cast a glaring new light on the all-too-familiar image of Jesus Christ bent over us and reigning from his Cross in suffering love and mercy, “a perfect sacrifice for the whole world” (BCP).  As a result, I don’t think that I will ever look upon the holy Cross of Christ again without recalling the sight of that tiny, white host passing through that fence to the anonymous, expectant, and outstretched hands on its other side.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Teaches_the_People_by_the_Sea_(Jésus_enseigne_le_peuple_près_de_la_mer)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

Jesus teaches the people by the sea, James Tissot, c. 1890

Today is the last Sunday of the “Great Church Year,” and it’s the Feast of Christ the King.  On such a day, it would be tempting to mark the occasion with unusual pomp and solemnity.  But Christ, our king, is not that sort of king at all, cast in the image of an eastern potentate bedecked in brocade vestments and crowned with a jeweled diadem.  Rather, he is the itinerant Jewish rabbi who tramped around Judea, Samaria, and Galilee with a band of scruffy disciples proclaiming the advent of the “kingdom of God” to the poor, the sick, the outcast, the homeless, and the mentally ill.  Like the would-be immigrants with outstretched hands on the Mexican side of that “border-fence,” hoping and praying to find a place of refuge and opportunity in this so-called nation of immigrants, Christ our king came to and for the “lowly” and “the least” among us.  The reward for his ministry was not the pomp and majesty of a golden throne; it was the dereliction of a Roman cross outside the gates of Jerusalem.  And Christ our king continues to reign from his Cross of divine mercy and suffering love in complete solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the dispossessed, and with every single victim of violence, murder, war, and genocide, “the plague that lays waste at noon,” according to the psalmist.

 

Hieronymus_Bosch-_The_Seven_Deadly_Sins_and_the_Four_Last_Things

The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, Heironymus Bosch, 1500

This morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew could not possibly be more explicit about the values and norms of the “kingdom of God,” together with the standard by which the risen, ascended, and glorified Christ judges us, his unworthy servants, now, and on the “Day of the Lord,” when all humanity will face “The Four Last Things”:  Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell.  During this eschatological month of November, when the air is thick with the memory of all the holy souls who have gone before us, the Church reminds us again of these realities.  And despite the claims of the totalitarian and murderous ideologies of these last two centuries—fascism, Nazism, communism, nationalism, religious extremism, and terrorism—“God is NOT dead,” and “all things are NOT permitted” because God, the “just judge” of the living and the dead, will not allow evil and chaos to be the last word—now, or in the “life of the world to come.”   As the great statesman Winston Churchill, who so courageously led the world against the scourge of genocidal Nazism, observed, “God’s mill may grind slowly, but it also grinds exceptionally fine.”  We cannot know on this side of the grave just how God’s infinite mercy will transfigure God’s infinite justice, but the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are powerful tokens of God’s “righteousness,” God’s “saving justice” at the last.

 

Syrian refugeesThe Feast of Christ the King is also a sober warning to the rulers of this world, those “Powers and Principalities” whose sole preoccupations are “struggle” and the “will to power.”  Social Darwinism in all of its guises—many of which we are witnessing anew in our national life—is simply not consistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  A society whose only watchword is, “I’ve got mine, now you go out there and get yours,” is doomed to stumble and fall beneath the crushing burden of egregious and mounting inequality.  A consumer culture that degrades and plunders God’s “very good” Creation to maintain an economy of conspicuous consumption, waste, and hollow entertainments will sooner or later collapse.  And if the unambiguous science is correct, it may be a lot sooner than we once thought.  A world awash in biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists, religious fanatics, non-state actors, and national leaders who play fast and loose with rhetoric promising “destruction like the world has never seen” will never know peace and security.  Those huge and expensive arsenals of nation-states, no matter the might of their dazzling array of high-tech weaponry, will never produce anything beyond the insecurity of mutually-assured destruction.  This morning’s Gospel is unambiguous and crystal clear:  so long as our concern extends only to the thinly-veiled modern expressions of tribe, clan, and family, we are failing the demands of God’s “kingdom” and the standards of the “just judge” of the living and the dead.

peace mural-refugees

Mural for peace, Cyprus

We Christians especially are called by our Baptismal Covenant to broaden our scope of care and concern to all the wretched of the earth, so vividly embodied by those anonymous, would-be immigrants waiting with outstretched hands to receive the “Body of Christ” behind that border-fence separating the “haves” of the northern hemisphere from the “have-nots” of the global south.  Because wherever Christ is found, there must his servants also be.  We must resist the shrill voices of hatred and division, together with the corrosive globalization of indifference, and spend all our effort in building a civilization of love and mercy, and in fostering a culture of life.

So, on this Feast of Christ the King, when we end one great Church year and begin another the following week, let us mark the great occasion by re-dedicating ourselves to our Baptismal Covenant and promises:

  • to continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers;
  • to persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord;
  • to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ;
  • to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves;
  • to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human person. (BCP)

If we remain faithful to these promises, a just and merciful God will be faithful to God’s one covenant with God’s people.  Then, one day, when we stand before the dread judgement seat of Christ, we will hear Christ our King say to each one of us, “Come, thou blessed of my Father, and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  AMEN.

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