+ + +
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Who do you say I am?
During hard times, when people want to be helpful and they really do not know what to do, they will often come up with a saying in the hope that it might make things a little better for us. My mother used to say, “And this too, shall pass.” It was to remind me that all experiences, good and bad, have their time and place and will not last forever. I once heard someone say, “Stop telling God how big your problems are and start telling your problems how big your God is.” This, I find, is a good reminder for those times when one feels especially overwhelmed by life’s difficulties. Another saying I heard recently is to remember Grace over Drama. G-O-D. It helps us to remember to pause, center, and focus on God’s grace rather than give into the emotional turmoil of the moment.
While I like all these sayings my favorite is still from Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Julian believed that sin was necessary because it brings people to self-knowledge, which leads to acceptance of the role of God in their life…Julian lived in a time of turmoil, but her theology was optimistic and spoke of God’s omnibenevolence and love in terms of joy and compassion. Her Revelations of Divine Love “contains a message of optimism based on the certainty of being loved by God and of being protected by his Providence.” Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_of_Norwich.
Sometimes the choice to accept God’s authority over us and our lives can be complicated. We want a leader who can right all wrongs, take down the bullies, fight for justice, and generally be the most powerful entity in our lives. We want someone who never lets bad things happen to us and who makes the world a better place. We want power. Instead we are given love.
On this last Sunday of the Liturgical Year, Christ the King, we are presented with a Gospel reading in which there is an attempt to humiliate and diminish Christ as a leader and the truth that Jesus is one whose victorious realm can never be conquered. Henri Nouwen says it this way, “Christ is presented to us as the mocked King on the cross as well as the King of the Universe. The greatest humiliation and the greatest victory are both shown to us in today’s liturgy.”
These two theologians, Julian and Henri, offer us a glimpse into a reality that can be hard to grasp. We are asked to submit to the authority of a king who simultaneously appears weak and small to the powers that be; and at the same time is greater than those who seek to destroy him. We are asked to believe that no matter how much we sin and/or suffering we create for ourselves or others, there is one who loves and protects us as we are in the process of learning who we are meant to be. We are asked to stake our futures on the belief that no matter what happens to us in this life, our eternal selves cannot be separated from the love of God unless we willingly give up this relationship.
It can be hard to understand how a man dying on a cross with a crown of thorns on his head, broken and bleeding, is also all powerful and eternally victorious unless you have a certain perspective. The way it makes sense to me is to remember that life circumstances are temporary, God is not. Difficult times will pass, God is eternal. As a child of God, a beloved citizen of God’s world, I am enriched in ways that no man can withhold from me or take from me. Therefore, any attempt to diminish my life or humiliate me can only be done with my consent. If I hold to the truth that God is the ultimate authority, the king in my life, then no earthly situation can take away the essence of who I truly am. I am beloved and always will be.
It is this understanding that helps me to make sense of today’s Gospel. Knowing who we are is our true source of power. The reason that the authorities could never destroy the beginnings of Christianity is because Jesus knew who he was. His earthly circumstances were not the beginning and end of his life. His essence could not be contained by some puny bureaucrat who thought he had power and authority. Jesus knew his mission and his purpose. He held the long view which meant that temporary difficulties would not stand in the way of what he came to do which is to reunite us with a loving and compassionate God.
Some folks, I know, have difficulty with this whole notion of Christ as king and the notion of a kingdom. Authoritarian kings have done much damage in attempts to achieve and maintain their sources of power. Their goal is to enrich their own lives and to secure for themselves positions in a world that will pass away. Jesus is not that kind of king. His birthright is one of eternal love, his power comes from that love and because this is so, he can provide for us the gifts of hope, redemption, forgiveness and compassion if we chose to accept his authority.
These are hard times for many of our friends and neighbors. Some have lost their homes, all their possessions and their livelihoods. Many people are alone in life and some people are troubled by illness, poverty, depression and hunger. As much as we might want to make things better for them, our abilities and our resources alone are not enough. I do believe that if we trust in God, if we trust in the truth that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega and has the power to provide for us as we truly need, then we will be able to harness the power of love in ways we could never imagine. It does not matter that we may not know what to say or how to help because our presence, powered by the love of Christ, will show us how to be there for those in our care. And when we do this, when we trust in the authority of a God created us to be a loving people, we will begin to know who we are truly meant to be.
I look forward to Advent. The season of waiting for Christ to reveal once again that power is never what we think it is if it does not include his loving presence. “The King of love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never. I nothing lack if I am his, and he is mine forever.” (Author H.W. Baker, Hymn).