Saturday, November 24, 2007

The End Of The Church Calendar Year

Tomorrow is Christ the King Sunday, the last feast day of the liturgical calendar (among Protestants; every day is still a saint day among Catholics, I suppose). It is fitting, I think, that the liturgical calendar comes full circle, beginning with Advent, then ending with Christ the King before we move . . . back to Advent again. Most people associate Advent (if they think of it at all) as a time of preparation for Christmas; other than "Come Thous Long Expected Jesus" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", we usually hop right on the Christmas gravy train, because it's "what we've always done". I use to struggle with this because, let's face it, there aren't too many hymns everyone sings with gusto like "Joy to the World" or "O Come All Ye Faithful". I no longer struggle because (a) Advent is as important in its own way as Lent as a time of preparation; and (b) by moving without any reflection from "ordinary time" to "Christmas" we are doing in Church what our society and culture does far too easily, trying to "get to Christmas" as quickly as possible.

Before we get to Christmas, though, we have to move through Advent. Before we move through Advent, however, we have Christ the King Sunday. For many American Christians, and even more for American non-Christians, the use of the royal title is not just problematic, but downright offensive. A while back (when I was in seminary in the early '90's), some tried to sneak around it by inserting talk of "the reign and realm of God" rather than "the Kingdom of God". They would talk about the "Reign of Christ" rather than "Christ the King". I am of two minds about all this. The latter is less an re-imagining of outworn metaphors than it is rhetorical fancy footwork. We need to be honest and admit that (a) the Bible uses royal imagery to describe Divine Rule; and (b) we cannot get around these images and metaphors simply because we do not like them.

I don't like them. I don't talk much about "the Kingdom of God", but I also don't talk much about "the Reign and Realm of God", either. The former is just . . . too undemocratic for me, and the latter is an attempt to be clever that ends up just being weaselly. Yet, Christ the King Sunday says in shorthand what the whole liturgical calendar, the entire cycle of feasts and remembrances, and the Biblical narrative moves toward. The Church and its faith is not about getting ourselves into heaven. The Church and its faith is not about hating gays, or getting our doctrine right, or outlawing abortion. The Church and its faith are about surrendering everything we have and are to God. Our time, our talent, our money, our devotion to family and friends - all of it is to fall away as we remember that, at the end of all things, the only thing the Jesus asks of us is our lives.

The eschatological dimension of the faith is always a difficult topic, made worse by all the blather about "the Rapture" and "the Second Coming" which pervades the issue. For myself, at least (and I really only speak for me), this is the end toward which, not just Advent, but the entire liturgical cycle and the Christian life moves - the final surrender of all we have to God. We do not need to go much further in to all the unanswerable questions and odd theories of "the final things" to insist that the proclamation of Jesus Christ as King is nothing more and nothing less than the laying down of all our petty, human attempts at power ("casting our crowns at his feet") and submitting to the powerlessness of the crucified Jesus.

Virtual Tin Cup

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