The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – November 21, 2021
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93:1-2, 5; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37
One question to start off today: Why do we come to Mass? We all know we’re supposed to go. We all know it’s a big sin if we don’t. But why? Why do we come to Mass? What’s the big deal? Think on that. We’ll get back to that.
The Power, Reign, and Kingdom of Death
“Have you ever buried someone you love? If you haven’t, you will. And you will know the sting of Death upfront and personal. It haunts everything in this life” (Fleming Rutledge, The Undoing of Death). This is a quote from one of my favorite authors. And during the month of November (which the Church dedicates to the dead), as the leaves fall, as the days grow darker and darker—death is all around.
In the past two weeks, I’ve participated in five different funerals. And with the exception of one, they were all “unexpected,” people dying far before “their time.” And those were just the funerals I was able to participate in. There were so many others that you have shared with me; your friends, children’s friends, family members. It seems this month has been filled with many of us experiencing the sting of death upfront and personally.
We have all buried someone we love, and if we haven’t we will. I remember during my first year as a priest, one of the first funerals I celebrated was for my own grandma. She was practically the only grandparent I ever knew, and one of the first funerals I celebrated.
It is easy to think of death as a fact of life, a cold-harsh truth. But it’s so much more than that! Our Tradition, the Scriptures—what our Faith affirms is that in the beginning, when humanity sinned, they didn’t just do a bad thing. By sinning, in the Fall of humanity, we were sold into slavery to powers we can’t compete against. There are two primary powers we can’t compete against: Death and Sin (which are both best written with capital letters). These aren’t just things that happen, or facts of life, cold-harsh truths—they are. But the way Scripture and our Tradition speak about them are as powers; it’s like they are governments, or authorities, “kingdoms.” We talked last week about how Jesus is speaking apocalyptically—pulling back the veil so we can see what’s really going on—well, what’s really going on is that behind all of the many powers at work in the world, all the world-powers competing for our attention and time and money and energy—behind all of these powers, veiled beneath all of these powers are the powers of Death and Sin.
Jesus’s Point: New Kingdom & New King
As we come to Mass week after week, as we live our lives day after day, as the monotony and ordinariness of life set in—we can easily begin to miss the point. Mass is a nice thing to do each week…if we have time; Jesus is just a nice guy, a person who tells us to “be kind” and “don’t be judgmental,” and so on. Again, it’s very easy to forget the bigger picture, to miss the point.
One of my favorite examples is the Wizard of Oz. And I use this example because if you haven’t seen the Wizard of Oz by now, it’s your own fault and it’s not my fault that I’m ruining it for you. What happens at the end of the Wizard of Oz? We find out that it’s just a dream. Ok, there it is. It’s just a dream. But is that the point of the movie? No. The point of the movie is what? “There’s no place like home.” Week after week, day after day, in the midst of the monotony and ordinariness, we can easily forget the bigger picture of what’s going on.
The point, the purpose is that, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news.” The first words out of Jesus’ mouth in the Gospel of Mark (that we’ve been reading this whole month)—“This time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” That’s the point! The people have been living under the the Kingdom of Death, the Kingdom of Darkness for so long. But now, in this time, all is at last fulfilled. And a New Kingdom is arriving: the Kingdom of God. What Jesus has been doing in his sermons and in his preaching and teachings, in his miracles and signs—all of it has been about this! The teachings are about how life operates in this New Kingdom. The miracles aren’t Jesus’ magic show. The miracles are signs that there is a New Power breaking into this world, a New Power stronger than the power of Death and sickness and Sin.“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” That’s the point.
The Dysfunctional House
It’s so easy, though, to get moralistic about it, though, and miss the point. As good Americans, when we hear “repent and believe,” we get very moralistic and assume that what Jesus means is, “Stop sinning and believe the teachings.”
But think about it this way. Imagine growing up in a dysfunctional house: parents who fight, alcoholic father, abusive mom, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, plates fly (quite literally). You hate it there. You do everything you can not to be home. You get involved in every sport, every extra-curricular activity, everything you can. Anything you can do to not be at home. One day, across the street, this annoyingly happy family moves in. And you hear them all the time out your bedroom window. The father playing with his kids, laughing, having fun, playing with his son—all the while you live in this horrible place. And one day, while you’re the only one at home, you hear a knock. And you go down and answer the door. And it’s the son from across the street. And he asks, “You don’t have to live here anymore. Would you like to come live with us?” And you don’t even pack.
The gospel, the good news that we’re supposed to repent and believe in—the good news is that someone has come to invite us away from that abusive and dysfunctional house, and invite us to live in a different one. Repent—that word means to turn around, turn away from. “Repent” is an invitation to turn away from that house we’re living in, and toward a new home. Believe—that word is the same word for “faith,” or, “trust.” “Believe” is an invitation to entrust yourself to this new household. The good news is that the Kingdom of God is here, it has arrived across the street—and the King is standing at the door of your house, knocking, inviting you to come. He’s inviting you saying, “You don’t have to live in this house anymore. You don’t have to live in the Kingdom of Darkness and Death. You can come live with us now.”
The Good News: A New King Has Arrived With His Kingdom
A person can have the most amazing life, the most amazing career, perfect family, nothing but joy and success and prosperity—but in the end they still find themselves under the power of the Kingdom of Death; they still end up dead. That is so depressing. Nothing is more depressing. People get up and eulogize them, tell us how amazing they were, the great things they did, the lives them influenced—but they’re still dead. Some people blithely say, “They are in a better place.” But think about it: “What better place? They’re dead. How is that better? All that means is that the Kingdom of Death won again.” At least, unless Jesus is real, unless this is real!
The Christian proposal is that Christ brings a New Kingdom. And His kingdom triumphs. Pilate—a symbol of Rome, the world power, the government, the kingdom ruling the whole world, so a symbol of the Kingdom that actually rules, Death—Pilate asks Jesus, mockingly, “So you’re a King?” Mockingly dresses him in the royal purple. Places the sign above his head, mockingly, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” In glib mockery, death once again thinks it wins. But there on the cross, when the kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of Darkness do their worst—that isn’t enough. Jesus is enthroned as King on the cross, and there Death is defeated. The resurrection isn’t a last-second, overtime win. No, Jesus goes to his death to defeat Death.
Coming To Mass: “Called to the supper of the Lamb.”
So go back to the question at the beginning: Why do we come to Mass? We jump to an incredibly negative approach when we say, “If we don’t, it’s a grave sin and we could go to hell.” In essence, “God will punish those who don’t follow Jesus and go to Mass.” But no! Stop. No.
Jesus GIVES himself for YOU. On the cross, arms stretched wide, completely vulnerable—Jesus gives his life to you, gives his life for you. On the cross, arms stretched wide, completely vulnerable—Jesus begs: “Come to me. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Come to my house, come live in the house of my Father. It’s been prepared for you. Leave that house, leave that kingdom, and come, live in my house, in the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
God isn’t out to punish. But He will let us turn him down. He will let us stay in that house. And in great sorrow, going to His death he continues to extend the invitation. But in our own little ways, in our sins and faults—we keep turning back to that house, to that power.
But here in the Mass we come to Mass to repent—to once again turn away from the kingdom that seeks to dominate us: “I confess…Lord have mercy.” We come to Mass to believe—to entrust ourselves, to surrender to the King, kneeling before His throne, as his sacrifice on the cross is made present here on the altar. We come here to worship our King. We come here to offer him ceaseless praise and thanksgiving, “always and everywhere” giving him thanks. And again and again and again…He gives Himself to us.
Here at the Mass, we are invited to come into the Father’s house, to be restored to the Father’s house, to that Kingdom of truth and life; holiness and grace; justice, love and peace. We come to Mass because it is here that we find the One who has rescued us from the power, the dominion and kingdom of Death and brought us into His Kingdom. We find Jesus Christ, our King.