Today is the last Sunday before Advent.
It’s traditionally called “Christ the King Sunday”
But that name pre-supposes that we have an understanding, or direct experience of what it means to be a King.
Our modern experience, however, leads very few of us to have any experience of life under kings.
Many of us, may think of kings as a charming vestige of a bygone era at best.
Or at worst, a damaging holdover of patriarchal oppression.
So what does it mean to celebrate “Christ the King Sunday?”
The Rev. Josh Bowron, a priest in North Carolina, proposed a helpful way to think about all of this, and it has to do with the theatre.
First, imagine a night out on the town.
Imagine going to a play.
It’s a one act play:
All the action, character development, and story happen in a few scenes.
It’s short and its satisfying.
Being a one act play,
Character and story must necessarily be brief and rather shallow.
A single theme might be explored,
But not much more than that.
Certainly nothing of real substance can be experienced, considered, and settled.
It was a nice night out.
And now, imagine another night out.
This night you go back to the theatre,
But this time there is a five-act play.
Actually, It’s Hamlet.
Being five acts,
All the characters have room to spread out.
They are living, breathing figures with motivations, pasts, and desires.
Multiple themes are explored.
Some of the most fundamental human concerns are introduced with wisdom and depth:
Obligation, doubt, death, family, and nation.
The action in this five-act play is complex;
There is even a play within a play that advances the story and gives us clarity around different character motivations.
This five-act play takes a lot longer,
But it REALLY is satisfying.
It seems to cover all of human existence.
The point here, is that our culture: the world:
Wants us to think that we live in a one-act play.
Depending on who you talk to,
That one act is material reality where there is nothing whatsoever except that which can be measured.
Others will tell you that this one-act play we are in is all about you:
All about your satisfaction and the attainment of something for yourself.
In this play, you will strive and strive,
Until one fateful day, you will arrive.
Another strong candidate for the one-act play of the world is a story about the accumulation of things.
Gather all you can --- you just have a few scenes in which to do it,
And at the end of the play, the one with the most toys wins.
Those are all rather boring plays. They are flat.
They don’t allow for any real growth.
Surely, there must be more.
And so enters the five-act play.
Theologian and priest Sam Wells, in his book “Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics,” says that we are in a five act play. Conveniently the five acts all start with “C”:
Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consummation.
Creation is, of course, the beginning of all things.
Here, we get a hint of Christ the King ad described in the Nicene Creed:
“Through him all things were made.”
Act two, Covenant, is where we learn that God has befriended a particular group of people, the Hebrew people,
Through whom God is made known.
God makes an agreement to never abandon them.
Act three is Christ,
The coming of God to be with us in the most intimate way imaginable.
In fact, it is BEYOND imagining that God would become a person.
In traditional five-act structures, this would be the climax:
The entire Christ event: Incarnation, teaching, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
Act four is the Church: God with us in the Holy Spirit, even now.
Finally, act five: consummation is when we look for the return of Christ to establish the everlasting kingdom.
This is the grand five-act play of God:
Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church and Consummation.
And this isn’t just regular theatre, where we merely sit and watch.
Instead, God has made this some sort of fancy participatory theatre.
God has actually set the stage for us in Creation,
And has been calling for us to get up at each act in Covenant, Christ, and Church.
We are onstage.
We are a part of the story.
Which play would you rather be in?
The one that barely scratches the surface,
Or the one that’s utterly epic: where the depths can never be fully plumbed?
Maybe you aren’t much of an actor.
So be it!
That is improvisational theatre. And the Holy Spirit will give you what you need to be in this play.
Christ the King.
Christ IS our King.
And Christ is also our five-act play.
Christ is not only that,
But he is also the lighting, the set, the whole entire theatre!
Christ is our source and our summit.
Christ is our destiny.
And this is, ultimately, what Christ the King Sunday is meant to remind us of:
That we are in a grand story:
And hopefully this wont be a spoiler:
We’re in a comedy.
(As in: a story with a happy ending.)
When you read God’s story,
Which is also our story,
Evil after evil is woven into a larger and larger tale,
And God makes good out of it all, every single time.
From the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the betrayal of Joseph’s brothers, to David’s lust, to Peter’s denial, all the way to the Cross:
God continuously redeems evil in the larger tapestry of good because we are in a grand comedic story.
At the beginning of the service,
We addressed our prayer to God, saying, “Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and lord of lords.”
This is a great comedy when, someday, God will be all in all.
You’ve heard the phrase: “All the world’s a stage.”
As Advent begins next week,
Let’s get on that stage and take our part in this amazing five-act comedy.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
We know this day well,
With its costumes and candy:
But today, we also celebrate the church holiday that actually takes place tomorrow:
All Saints Day.
And actually, Halloween, has its roots in All Saints day.
It actually COMES out of the Christian tradition of All Saints day.
“All Hallows’ Eve” marks the day before “all-hallow-tide”
Which is the liturgical celebration dedicated to remembering the dead,
Including the saints (known as hallows),
Martyrs, and all the departed.
Hear that word “hallows”? As in: Halloween?
Or our father, “HALLOWED be thy name?”
And I really think that All Saints Day is one of the most under-rated church holidays.
It is overshadowed by its more glamorous Fall cousins, Halloween and Thanksgiving. (Even though Halloween comes from All Saints day!)
Kind of similar to how Holy Saturday gets lost in Holy Week.
But All Saints’ Day can bring us a unique blessing just as Holy Saturday does.
Both are days that are about how some of the darker parts of human experience:
Can be washed in holiness, when they are brought before God.
Like Holy Saturday, All saint’s Day lets us attend to our grief:
Recognizing that grief is a real part of human experience.
It’s a day set aside for us to remember those who have died:
The marvelous known saints of the past:
And even the people we personally knew and loved.
Those who were important to us,
Those who made an impact on our lives,
And Those who have died—joining the great cloud of witnesses.
Like Ash Wednesday,
All Saint’s day reminds us of the reality of death.
And like Holy Saturday, it’s a day set aside for us to remember and grieve.
But All Saint’s day is also about the promise to come.
There are certainly many tears--
And we know that tears are a part of our human experience.
But there’s desperately good news, even amidst the tears.
The “Good News” of All Saints day:
Is the gift of the human family:
The gift of the church:
Of communion with all of Christ’s body.
The collect for All Saint’s day sums it up perfectly:
“Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in ONE communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.”
We didn’t have that collect today,
Since it’s not ACTUALLY All-Saints Day.
But I think it’s important to mention it.
Because the collect makes it clear that there is ONE Communion:
For ALL the saints of God.
Today we have space to remember and grieve,
But we do not do it individually:
We do not do it alone.
We do it together:
while simultaneously celebrating the hope of what’s to come.
That’s why today’s liturgical color is white.
Not the purple of Ash Wednesday,
Or the black of Holy Saturday.
The liturgical color of Easter, of Resurrection, of Celebration, of Baptism.
In fact, All saints day is a traditional day for baptisms across the church.
Where new members are welcomed into the body:
Because All-Saints day is not about death:
But about God’s promise of life:
Uniting us to each other,
And even to those who have died.
So, while All-Saints day allows us to acknowledge the reality of tears and grief:
It’s also a reminder of the hope to come:
Of God’s power over death:
Of communal fulfillment:
Of a new earth, a new heaven,
a new city, a new people.
Where death and weeping are no more:
And ALL are united at the heavenly banquet.
In the New Testament, the word “Saint” was used to describe all of the baptized:
Hence, another reason for today to be a baptismal day:
A day for making saints:
For welcoming new saints.
For honoring past saints.
It’s not just about those popular and holy people like Saint Francis.
On All Saints day, we are reminded of our connection
Our common communion with ALL the saints:
With ALL the baptized:
With each other,
With those we love,
With those who have gone on before us,
And in our prayers, which we share with one another.
All saints is a celebration of Christ in his WHOLE Mystical body.
A celebration of the Angels, Archangels, and ALL the company of heaven.
(There’s that ALL again)….
All saints is a celebration of what it means to be a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
United to ALL the peoples
ALL the nations,
ALL The faces,
Across ALL The earth.
Is the best part, as well as the hardest part.
(We’ve talked about this before)
That ALL means ALL.
It might be people we disagree with.
It might be people we don’t like.
Or in today’s Gospel story:
It might even be a Scribe.
Now, today’s Gospel reading is not ACTUALLY the reading for all-saints day.
On All-Saints day we would have heard the story of the raising of Lazarus.
But we ARE celebrating All-Saints today,
Even if we aren’t using those readings.
And this Gospel reading,
Which is Mark’s account of Jesus’ conversation with one of the scribes,
Is quite fitting for this celebration of ALL Saints.
Because the scribes usually got it all wrong.
But not this time:
This time, the scribe answers Jesus’ question correctly.
The scribe admits that all of this God business is not just about law and ritual:
It’s about relationship.
And the most important thing, is to put people first:
Even above the law.
In this reading:
A SCRIBE of all people:
Gets it right,
And Jesus tells him that the Kingdom of God is near to him.
This might not mean too much to us today.
But in Jesus’ time,
This was HUGE.
That the kingdom could be open to even a scribe:
Those dummy scribes, who often just followed the rules,
But didn’t really have the true, pureness of heart.
And in this case:
Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom is available to everyone:
That ANYONE can become a saint of God.
Even the scribes.
Even the pharisees.
ALL of them.
And that’s the other thing about All Saints day:
There’s nothing individual about it.
It’s about ALL of us:
And ALL who’ve come before us:
And so today, we’ll offer up our prayers:
On behalf of each other.
Our prayers of petition,
Our prayers of gratitude,
Our prayers for those we love who have died,
And for those who are still with us.
During the prayers of the people,
We’ll actually pray for every person listed in our parish directory.
Every one, by name.
ALL of us.
And maybe we’ll see that little glimmer:
That little flicker of the heavenly banquet:
That common communion with one another:
With ALL those we love,
With ALL we have not even met:
With ALL those who have died:
And ALL who will come after us.
Maybe even ALL those we don’t really care for.
With everyone: With ALL the saints of God.
Enjoy the weekly sermons at anytime.