Today is the feast of the Reign of Christ, also known as the feast of Christ the King. This is a relatively new feast for the church. Pope Pius XI instituted the feast in 1925. The feast was created to combat the rising nationalism and secularism in Europe. On the surface Pius’ feast failed. Nationalism rose. Within a decade and a half, Europe was engulfed in a Second World War, largely caused by the tides of nationalism.
Still Pius’ feast remains. The feast of the reign of Christ hopes to remind us that we are part of a bigger story. Part of something greater than family, clan, or nation. We are part of something bigger, a story that has been written since the beginning of creation, a story of God’s love, of God’s redemption, of God’s action in the world.
Today we come to the end of our story, so that we can begin again. We prepare to start again our cycle of telling our great story, the story that may sometimes be hidden, but is always present. Scripture often celebrates the minority report, the way God is moving in funny hidden corners of our world, working God’s purposes through odd characters, on the edges of empires, in the strangest of places, in a stable, in a manger, not at the center. God’s story is often a hidden story, a deeper story. The story of what the late great Whitney Houston called “a higher love” is often hidden in the moment.
Scripture benefits from hindsight. Often Scripture can seem so majestic. God’s will, God’s work, seems so obvious in the Bible. But remember, Scripture was often written own decades, if not generations after the events occurred. Most of the oldest stories in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, were told around the campfire for centuries before they were written down. Even the New Testament, the stories of Jesus were written down decades after his life, death and resurrection.
Scripture benefits from hindsight. It is often much easier to see how God has acted in the past, in retrospect, than to see how God is acting in the moment. The official Roman historian of Jerusalem, in the time of Jesus, tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, and stops there. Jesus looks like a failure. The project of Christ’s reign, the project of Jesus’ kingship, looks like utter defeat in the moment. We often see what God was doing better with the gift of hindsight, with the time it takes to reflect, to notice, to see where the story leads.
But every once in awhile, the great story breaks through. As it did for the small gathering of Jesus’ disciples, first with the women at the tomb. Then with the boys in the upper room. Sometimes God’s story breaks through.
Yesterday, for me, was one of those breakthrough days. I don’t know if you heard, but yesterday we elected a new bishop. The Rev. Deon K. Johnson of St. Paul’s in Brighton Michigan. Our bishop-elect is an immigrant from Barbados. He is also a black man, and married to another man.
A few weeks ago, Rudy Nickens, who serves on your vestry and who served on the Bishop nominating committee from the Diocese said to me, “there is no way that Missouri will elect a gay black man as a bishop.” Yesterday we elected Deon in one vote, overwhelmingly. I ran to the back of the room to give Rudy a hug. He said to me a little later, “I have never been so glad to be wrong.”
Every once in awhile the greater story, God’s story, breaks through. Every once in awhile we get a glimpse of what God can do in the moment.
And the story of yesterday was not simply about yesterday. Bishop-elect Johnson would not have been elected so quickly just a few years ago. The moment yesterday was the result of a great deal of slow patient work in our church, work of generations. God moves in the midst of our story.
A decade ago now, when I was in seminary. I had the privilege of attending a Simchat Torah celebration at the congregation Aggudis Achim in Alexandria, Virginia. Each year in the synagogue, the service of Simchat Torah marks the end of the scroll. Literally, because the Jewish Torah is hand-written on a lambskin scroll. You know you’ve come to the end of the cycle because all of the skin is wrapped around one of the spools. It needs to be re-wound.
After some dancing and singing, the participants stood in a big circle and the torah scroll that had been on the lectern was completely unravelled. Each of us with gloved hands held the skin carefully between our fingers.
The torah scroll wrapped around the congregation. We were literally surrounded by Scripture, literally holding the words of the great story. As the adults held the torah, teenagers who had recently been through their bar or bat mitzvah stood around the room near a section of scroll and chanted aloud a story of God’s people. As these young voices sang in Hebrew, I looked around the room.
That night, standing in the synagogue, I was invited, literally, to hold Scripture with care and with reverence. The story tells us of God’s surprising action among God’s people. The story of God’s loving action wasn’t just the story of centuries ago. God was active loving this community in the present.
Friends, we are entrusted with a deeper story. In the midst of a world that often writes such bad news, there is a higher love, there is more to the story. God is working God’s purposes out. Our loving, life-giving, liberating God is moving. God moved yesterday, I am convinced and when we look back, when our grand-children look back, I am convinced they will be able to see even more clearly the ways in which God’s story has been unfolding even in our own time.
The story of our nation, of any nation, is not the main work of God. The deeper work is always about the ways God is building up a people who liberate, who bring life, who bring love to the world. May Christ Reign this day and forevermore. Amen.