Christ the King

Have you noticed?

The shops are a little noisier, Christmas music is playing gently in the background, tinsel and glitter have begun to appear, and the so-called ‘Christmas specials’ are in the front windows to entice us in!

The end of the calendar year approaches, and so too does our liturgical year and we again proclaim (Luke  25: 35 – 43) “Christ the King”

Yet we have a picture of a beaten, bloodied, bedraggled, broken and naked man hanging in despairing human agony, nailed to a tree!

Christ the King? What is our liturgy playing at?

Cast your mind back to the recent funeral liturgy for Queen Elizabeth II, such a  sombre and sedate liturgy, as ought to be for a deceased monarch.

However, people were still dressed in their most ‘glamourous’ mourning attire.

And, on the sanctuary there was still red and crimson on display, the choir was robed in their cathedral-best choir dress and they sang with beauty and energy.

A colourful bouquet of flowers was left at both her London and Scottish homes.

Hours of preparation were involved in the Queen’s funeral liturgy.

The late Queen’s death, while sombre, had colour to it.

She was interred in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle and where her remains will stay with a beautiful marble plaque placed on top.

The difference between the two is unmistakable.

One, for 70 years, we called ‘Queen’, the other, for some 2000 years and counting we have call ‘King’.

However, if by chance, you go looking for the remains of “our King”, all you will find is an empty cross, and a vacant tomb with a stone rolled away.

The illustration is titled ‘The Crucifixion’ by the American artist Edward Knippers

Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Our Gospel for this Sunday begins with a question, “Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question (Lk. 26: 27 -28).

When the Sadducees posed their question about the status (in the next life) of the woman who was married in this life to seven brothers, they were only making fun of the belief in a next life.

No Rabbi had ever brought a ‘proof’ of it from the first five books of the Scriptures (the only ones that the Sadducees accepted).

But in Jesus they met, for the first time, a Rabbi who did!

Reading again from v. 37: “Moses himself showed it to be true…” (Moses was considered the author of the first five books).

If there are no questions, there are no real doors opening.

The German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), was walking along a street in Dresden one day, seeking answers to questions that bothered him.

Passing by a garden, he decided to sit down and look at the flowers.

The owner was suspicious and called the police.

A policeman arrived and asked him, ‘Who are you?’

Schopenhauer paused and said, ‘If you can help me find the answer to that question, I will be eternally grateful to you!’

The Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke ( 1875 – 1926) was being pestered by a young man who kept sending him copies of his (the young man’s) poems and asking Rilke whether he was good enough to pursue his poetry ideal.

In a letter to him, Rilke writes, “I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.

“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.

“And the point is to live everything.

“Live the questions now.

“Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”  ( from  Letter to a Young Poet )

Many of us seek the surety of the answer – an answer brings resolution, security, some interior calm, and of course, the ability to move on!

If there are no real questions, there are no real doors opening; try to ‘live the questions now, to love the questions’



31st Sunday of Ordinary time

It happens with a frequency that can be annoying!

As friends we are kicking the football around in the backyard, and, with a kick a little higher than usual the ball ends up in the tree!

Each of us can see it clearly and attempts are made to free it from the clutches of the branch; other balls are thrown to dislodge the ball.

No luck!

Shoes are taken off and hurled at the ball.

No luck!

The tree is shaken; however, its wide and strong trunk moves little.

The decision is made – one of us will just have to climb the tree, move gingerly out onto the branch, and prise the ball free!

But who?

They need be strong enough to climb the trunk, yet slight enough to ease out onto the branch! And of course, dumb enough to accept the possibility of the branch snapping and being hurled to the ground as a very likely consequence!

In our English language we have a saying, “going out on a limb”.

The Collins English Dictionary describes going out on a limb: “If someone goes out on a limb, they do something they strongly believe in even though it is risky or extreme and is likely to fail or be criticized by other people.”

While acknowledging that my search was by no means exhaustive, I did find an early print reference with a figurative meaning from the Steubenville (Ohio) Daily Herald newspaper, 1895:

“We can carry the legislature like hanging out a washing. The heft of the fight will be in Hamilton country. If we get the 14 votes of Hamilton we’ve got ’em out on a limb. All we’ve got to do then is shake it or saw it off.”

Since the expression dates back to at least 1895, that means it is 120 years old at minimum.

However, this Sunday’s Gospel hints for us that the saying may predate the Steubenville Daily Herald by many, many, many years.

In Luke 19: 1 – 10, we are introduced to a tree climber, Zacchaeus, who, if we take the Collins Dictionary at value, we may well have discovered someone “going out on limb”!

They do something they strongly believe in

It is risky or extreme

If it fails, it is likely to be criticized by other people

And all because “he wanted to see Jesus!”

[Oh, and Zaccahaeeus while you are up the tree, would you mind fetching our ball . . . please!]

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

On many occasions unknowingly, and on other occasions quite knowingly, Christian prayer has become a contest.

    • Have I chosen the right place?
    • Am I in the right posture?
    • How often?
    • For how long?

Each becomes part of the criteria for prayer efficacy.

This Sunday’s Gospel (Lk. 18: 9 – 14), which in the Gospel I use most often has the heading, ‘The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector’ is a story remembered by many of us – one up the front, the other down the back!

The Pharisee begins his prayer as a contest, “God, I thank you I am not like. . . . .”, and immediately the Pharisee’s prayer is about himself.

Christian prayer is not something we do – an activity.

Rather it is a relationship with another, and for those in a relationship, you will be aware that what happens is a matter of initiative and response, first by one and then the other; and in those moments of exuberant joy, there is a syncopation that only lovers know.

If I am engaged in Christian prayer because I have to, in order to be good and acceptable, then I am not engaged in Christian prayer!

There is a story told about a Jewish farmer who did not get home before sunset one Sabbath and was forced to spend the night in the field, waiting for sunrise the next day before being able to return home.

Upon his return home, he was met by a rather perturbed rabbi who chided him for his carelessness.

“What did you do out there all night in the field?” the rabbi asked him.

“Did you at least pray?”

The farmer answered: “Rabbi, I am not a clever man. I do not know how to pray properly. What I did was to simply recite the alphabet all night and let God form the words for himself.”

When we come to celebrate, we bring the alphabet of our lives.

Our psyches go up and down.

Sometimes we feel like singing and dancing.

Sometimes there is a spring in our step.

However, we have other seasons too – cold seasons, bland seasons, seasons of tiredness, pain, illness, and boredom.

If prayer is lifting of heart and mind to God, then clearly, during these times, we ought to be lifting something other than song and dance.

If our hearts and minds are full of warmth, love, enthusiasm, song, and dance, then these are the letters we bring.

If our hearts and minds are full of tiredness, despair, blandness, pain, and boredom, then those are our letters we bring.

Offer them and allow your God to construct them into words!