November 20, 2016
Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43
+ I think I’ve shared this confession with you before. If not, I’m sure it doesn’t come as a great surprise to any of you who know me. I love horror movies. And not just any horror movies. I’m not fond of the slasher, violence-for-the-sake-of-violence kind of horror film. (I’m vegan, after all).
My favorite kind of horror films are the apocalyptic ones. You know the ones. The ones like the M. Night Shyamalan film Signs, which deals with an Episcopal priest, played by Mel Gibson, who has lost his faith just before aliens invade the earth and attempt to wipe out the human race.
Or another Shyamalan’s film (which was universally panned by critics), The Happening, about a neurotoxin released by plants and carried by wind that caused people to commit suicide in mass numbers and in very gruesome ways. (I was just watching this yesterday while waiting for the cable guy).
I also really love zombie films (I LOVE The Walking Dead). I have a whole theological system of thought worked out regarding the zombie genre. I won’t inflict that on you today, but I really believe these zombie films and shows give voice to the fear we all have inherently of death.
All of these deal with the issue of (as the old R.E.M. song proclaimed) it’s-the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it kind of situation. Recently, as I thought about the guilty pleasure I have in these films, I realized that my love of this genre has its roots firmly in my faith life as a Christian. I know that sounds weird, but…
In the secular world, these films and books are called apocalyptic, or post-nuclear, or whatever. But we Christians have a term for this kind of genre as well. That term is eschatology.
Eschatology, to quote my trusty old Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, is defined as: the study of the “last things” or the end of the world. It goes on to further define it in this way: Eschatology means “Theological dimensions including the second coming of Jesus Christ and the last judgment.”
These films, seen, for me, through the lens of my being a Christian and as a priest, are very eschatological. But for others they might not seem so.
At first glance, there is a bleakness to them—a hopelessness to them. For the most part, these films and movies show a kind of evilness—whether it be supernatural evilness or natural evilness, or even extraterrestrial evilness—as prevailing. In most of the films that deal with these issues, the perspective is almost always from a seemingly non-Christian perspective. This world of bleakness and purposelessness is seems, on the surface anyway, wholly void of God or Christ. Which actually makes them even more bleak and horrendous.
But for me, I don’t see it as clearly. For me, I love them because they jar me. They jolt me out of my comfort zone and make me imagine—for a few hours anyway—what the end of the world might be like. These films also make me ponder and think about Christ’s place in these situations.
For most of us here this morning, we feel fear and shock over situations that have actually happened—in our own lives, in our collective lives. For those of us who never gave eschatology a second thought, we found ourselves at times in our lives wondering, even for a moment, if this might actually be the end of the world.
Certainly we, in the Church, get our glimpses of the end of the world in our liturgical year. As you probably have guessed, I always love preaching about beginnings. Beginnings are always a time of hope and joy. They hold such promise for everything that can possibly happen. But occasionally, we all must face the fact that, in the Church and in our lives, we also must confront the ending.
Now for most people, the ending is a time to despair. Certainly that is where I think so much of the darkness in those zombie films come from. That is where we are when really horrible, bad things happen in our lives. Despair reigns. And when despair reigns, it is a bleak time. The ending is a time to dig in one’s heels and resist the inevitable.
But for us—for Christians—we don’t have that option. For us, the ending is not the ending at all. It is, in fact, the beginning. For us, what seems like dusk to others, is actually dawn, though we—and they— sometimes can’t recognize it.
Today is an ending as well, in our Church calendar, Today, of course, is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday in that very long, green season of Pentecost.
Last Wednesday, after Mass, I hung up my green chasuble and green stole with a bit of sadness. It will be a while before I wear them again. But, it’s not so bad. Next week, I get to wear the Sarum blue (which I really enjoy wearing).
Today, for the Church, it is New Year’s Eve. The old church year of Sundays ends today. The new church year begins next Sunday, on the First Sunday of Advent.
So, what seems like an ending today is renewed next week, with the coming of Advent, in that revived sense of longing and expectation that we experience in Advent. So even then, at that beginning, we are still forced to look ahead. We are forced to face the fact that the future does hold an ending that will also become our beginning—a beginning that will never end. And as we face that future, we do so on a Sunday in which we proclaim Christ to be King. That is very important!
In our Gospel reading for this morning, we find that title of King being used in a derogatory way. The King of the Jews, as Jesus is called today in our Gospel reading, is meant to be a demeaning title. It is a way to mock him. Those taunting people did not recognize the royalty present within Jesus. Rather they saw him as a little man with thoughts of grandeur.
But what we know and celebrate on this Christ the King Sunday is that, yes, he is King. And his Kingdom—that Kingdom that we, as his followers are called to bring forth into this world, is not a kingdom of the privileged. It is not a Kingdom of those in power—of those who use power and abuse power. It is, in fact, a kingdom of the outcasts, the marginalized, the downtrodden. It is a kingdom of those people, uplifted by their King.
As the Anglican theologian Reginald Fullers says,
“It is not just an abstract idea; it involves the doctrines of creation, redemption and reconciliation of the universe, and of the Church as the sphere in which his reign is already acknowledged and proclaimed.”
It is a celebration of not only who Jesus was, but who Jesus is and will be. It is a celebration of the fact that, although it seems, at times, as though this Kingdom of God is not triumphant, at times it seems, in fact, to have failed miserably, we know that ultimately, in all that we do, in our ministries, it does break through into this world again and again.
Which causes me to return to those horror moves I love so much. I said earlier that it seems they are absent of Christ. But that isn’t entirely true. In many of those films, there always comes a moment of grace. There is always a moment when it seems evil prevails—when darkness has encroached on the earth and human kind is about to be obliterated. In the case of the zombie films, it is more profound. It seems as though death—symbolized by these walking “living dead”—has prevailed over life itself It is in that moment, that there is a turning point. The heroes of these films, at this point, usually recollect themselves. They find an inner strength. They find some kind of renewed hope that motivates them to rise up and to fight back. And, in the end, they are able to push back—or, at the very least, hold at bay—the forces of darkness, death and evil.
For us with eyes that see and ears that hear, that hope is very Christ-like. For those of us who are afraid or despairing, we find Christ in those rays of hope that break through into our lives. It is very similar to the hope we are clinging to in this moment as we enter Advent—that time in which the light of Christ is seen breaking into the encroaching darkness of our existence. At moments it seems that the Kingdom of God is over and done with.
But, as we know, in our ending is our beginning. And the Kingdom of God always triumphs, again and again. Goodness always prevails over evil and darkness. Always!
We—the inheritors of that Kingdom—are the ones who birth that Kingdom. We bring that Kingdom into our midst whenever we love radically, we welcome radically, when we accept radically, when we serve radically in the Name of Jesus. We do so when we become the conduits of hope.
That’s why we celebrate this incredible day on this last Sunday before Advent begins. Advent, after all, is that time for us to look toward the future, and to hope, even if that future might seem bleak. It is a time for us to gaze into the dark and the haze and all that lies before us and to see that it is not all bleak, it is not all frightening and scary, but that, in the midst of that darkness, there is a glimmer of light.
This Sunday and the season we are about to enter, is all about the future and hope. We, on this Christ the King Sunday, are looking forward into the darkness of the future and eternity, and we are seeing the rays of light shining through to us. For us, as followers of Jesus the King, as inheritors of that Kingdom , it is a hope. It is a time to remind ourselves that we must continue bringing about that Kingdom of God into our midst.
So, let us rejoice on this Christ the King Sunday. Let us move forward into our future together. Let us go together into that future with confidence and joy and gladness at all the blessings we have been given and that we are able to give to others. And let us to do all that we do, as Paul tells us today in his letter to the Colossians, “made strong with all the strength that comes from [God’s] glorious power…”