Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Proper 29 Year B Chirst the King

Proper 29 B
"Christ the King"
(Revised Common Lectionary)

II Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19)


Daniel 7:9-10,13-14; Psalm 93

Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

This version of David's story concludes with these self-described "last words." David's attributes attest to his skills with words, his favor with God and his lineage: "oracle," "son of Jesse, "the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the "Strong One" of Israel. David celebrates the privilege given him: "the spirit of the Lord speaks through me, his word is on my tongue...." David has been honored to learn directly from the "rock of Israel" the knowledge that "one who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of the morning...." David's heritage is insured by an "everlasting covenant...." But the godless are like thorns discarded as useless and destroyed by fire.

The psalmist recounts in poetic verse David's pledge not to rest until the Ark of the Covenant had a proper place of honor in Jerusalem. Then follows a petition to the Lord not to forget the covenant made with David. The psalmist records the Lord's response, "this is my resting place evermore." Here the needy will be filled, the priests "clothed with victory" and the faithful "sing gladly." David's "enemies I will clothe with shame/but on him-- his crown will gleam."


Daniel's revelation continues to unfold. Now he sees thrones moved into place and the "Ancient One" takes one of them. The clothing is "white as snow," the hair "like pure wool." The throne and its wheels are ablaze. Tens of thousands are in attendance. The figures settle into a court configuration as "the books were opened." Then he "saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven," who was "presented to the Ancient One." To this person will be given dominion over "peoples, nations, and languages" and a "kingship that shall never be destroyed."

The Lord is worshiped as "strong," the psalmist sings. Because of the Lord, the world is firm and cannot be shaken. The Lord's throne stands forever. The roar of the sea honor's the Lord's majesty as its creator, who is also the source of reliable statutes/commandments. "The Lord is for all time."

Inspired by the revelation to Daniel (in particular chapter 7, see above), this John greets his readers in the name of the "seven spirits before God's throne" and "from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the rulers of the earth." Christ's blood sacrifice "made us to be a realm of priests serving his God and Father...." Look for the Son to come again, this time "with clouds." "Even those who pierced him" will see this return, as well as the whole earth. The Lord God declares: "So it is to be." "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is, was and is still to come, "the Almighty."

Throughout his narrative, John depicts Jesus as fully aware of and in control of all that happens around him. This rendition of his interrogation by Pilate begins with the official of the Roman Empire as judge over Jesus but concludes with an important twist. Pilate asks if the accusation brought against him by his own people is true, "are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answers with a question, Is this your question or are you just repeating what others have said. Pilate reminds Jesus he is not a Jew and that Jesus had been brought to him. "So what have you done," Pilate asks. Jesus responds with a declaration, "My kingdom is not of this world." If his goals had something to do with power as generally understood his followers would be fighting to save him, Jesus explains. Pilate presses, "so you are a king?" John's Jesus self-confidently says to Pilate, "You said it." But Jesus continues with a fuller statement: "he came into the world to testify to the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

The origins of Ark of the Covenant-- who and when it was built, what it looked like or even what exactly was inside it-- are not clear in biblical texts. Likewise its fate after David installed an Ark of the Covenant in his new capital city, Jerusalem, seems to not be very important. Yet, David's extensive efforts to properly house it is a central task of his reign as the first king of a united Israel successful in war. It could be said that it is not the Ark itself, whose tangible features are actually nebulous, that matters as much as the memories, hopes and passions it recalls and inspires. It was a sign of an agreement, "an everlasting covenant," between God and humankind made through a chosen people. It is a promise, a guarantee by God that no natural or human-made disaster will annihilate life, because God is the creator and the relentless advocate for justice which sustains creation.

Written in times that felt like impending annihilation, the Book of Daniel (especially the excerpt this Sunday) sees beyond that current crisis to a place/time when the "Ancient One," through one presented at the throne, will reassert a "kingship that shall never be destroyed." The psalmist (93) gives thanks for the solace he discovered in a God who is the source of laws on which he can rely, "who is for all time."

John of the Great Revelation understands the presumed failure of Jesus' life and work to be, in fact, the catalyst for a new class of "priests" who serve the "Alpha and Omega" of all life. Even those who executed him will come to see the victory of God wrought out of a seemingly tragic ending.

That carefully crafted scene when Jesus stands before Pilate is a dialogue between the thrust of the entire biblical tradition as personified in Jesus and the presumed authorities and systems of human inquisitiveness and powers. Pilate -- standing in for all of us-- tries to figure out who Jesus really is and what he is trying to accomplish. In John's narrative, Jesus ignores Pilate's concerns and questions and says simply, "my realm is not of this world." And Jesus continues, I am here to bear witness to the "truth" and to those who hear and adopt what I say. Jesus says nothing that answers the questions Pilate asks on our behalf, yet, at the same time, says everything that needs to be said. The English poet of the first half of the Seventeenth century, Richard Crashaw's, "And he answered them nothing," says what needs to be said:

O Mighty
Nothing! unto thee,
we owe all things that be.
God spake once when he all things made,
He saved us when he Nothing said.
The world was made of Nothing then:
'Tis made by Nothing now again.

This fact that God refuses to be pinned down by human interests, to simply ignore our most pressing questions, is celebrated by certain postmodern writers. One distinctive approach is Jacques Derrida's, which finds that this absence releases a passion for justice; an opposite approach is Jean-Luc Marion's in which God overwhelms the interests that matter most to us in preference to a paramount interest--love. (An argument could be made that biblical texts oscillate between these two approaches.) In a 1997 essay, "Apostles of the Impossible," written after another one of those amazing conferences at Villanova University, the host, John Caputo, wrote, For Derrida, "like the Messiah, justice is always to come." "For Marion, the Messiah has already come, hypergivness has already overtaken us...." (God, the Gift and Postmodernism, p. 218)

The Christian experience is that the Messiah came once and will come again, because God's "realm" is still waiting to be established by
individual women and men for all women and men. (It is always once but not yet.) Central to the establishment of this "realm" is the realization that life exists and endures due to the passion of the "Ancient One" who initiated it all out of love and with a passion for justice and has provided the means to sustains it all, which is those commandments/precepts of love/justice. Is this the secret contents of the "Ark of the Covenant?" This is alien to the way the world thinks the world works, yet it is the actual "truth" that will guarantee its survival. Jesus bears witness to this "truth." And, "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." This is not what we wanted or expected to be said, but it is what needs to be said, over and over until the Messiah comes-- again. This does not answer our biggest questions, but it answers the question we did not think to ask.