I’ve been doing a little informal research on Presidential pardons of turkeys. This week President Trump pardoned Wishbone and Drumstick, the two beautiful turkeys who were spared the fate of others of their kind during Thanksgiving week. President Obama spared Tator and Tot last year, Abe and Honest the year before, Cheese and Mac in 2014, Popcorn and Caramel, Cobbler and Gobbler, and so on, down the line to Ronald Reagan, who was the first president to pardon his turkey. Malcolm and Red are the names of the two work horses at Mighty Food Farm, our Community Supported Agricultural farm in Shaftsbury, and while they are a gorgeous pair of animals, clearly they were not named to be a memorable pair in a Wikipedia entry. So, as I’ve been reading and preparing for this “Reign of Christ” or “Christ the King” Sunday, I’ve decided that Alpha and Omega would be great names for a pair of workhorses, or puppies, or kittens, maybe even turkeys. Alpha and Omega–Alph and Meg for short, perhaps.
Alpha and Omega–how many people would know the origin of those names? In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says that he is the alpha and omega, the first and the last, the first letter of the Greek alphabet –alpha–and the last one – omega. On this Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday, the ending and the beginning come together, like on a Moebius strip, as the church year comes to a close and we look forward to its beginning again in Advent.
This is a festival about power and judgment. No wonder the marketers of the Christmas Orgy of Consumerism don’t have a name or a color for this Sunday–we have Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday. Notice what’s conspicuously missing? What about Sunday? Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday. Power and Judgment. Whose power and judged on what? If Christ really were king, or even leaving behind the dated term of monarchy, if Christ “reigned,” is this how he would want his birthday celebrated?
We’ve been reading parables in Matthew’s gospel that have to do with how we are to live “in the meantime”–until Christ returns, until the Reign or Dream of God is fulfilled. Keep your oil lamps lit (and share your oil), use the gifts and talents given to you to infuse God’s presence into the world. And then this week’s passage–”When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.”
It’s a picture of glory that Jesus’ listeners and Matthew’s community could imagine– a king sitting on his throne, surrounded by shimmering heavenly beings–houses of the rich and famous, you know?. Paul picks up on the image in his letter to the Ephesians– “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things….”
When Christ is King, when Christ reigns over the earth,….this is what it will be like. Jesus, actually, taught about that all through his life, in all those parables about the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven– the kingdom is like a sower who threw out seed, ….like a woman who swept her whole house looking for a lost coin,…like a wedding feast,…like a tiny mustard seed that grew into a great bush where birds made their nests…
And this is what God’s power is like–yes, creating, setting into motion the universe, the galaxies and stars and planets, before time, beyond time–but this is the essence of God’s power– the power of love, caring for the least of these, those who are hungry, homeless, without voice, in prison, refugees, the sick and enfeebled, the widow, the orphan. This care for the poor, as one commentator says, is not just “a utilitarian act of social justice (as Bill and Melinda Gates do, for example), an altruistic act with no element of self- interest or expectation of reward, and not merely a sign of a believer’s personal faith…Rather, care for the poor is ‘the privileged way to serve God.’” [Gary Anderson, Charity: the Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition, cited by Dan Clendenin, journeywithjesus)
Where is God in the world today? “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” The title given to this parable in my bible says, “The Judgment of the Nations.” How will our nation be judged by this standard? How does the current Tax Reform legislation stand up to this criteria? Clean water. Food enough to build healthy bodies. Welcome for refugees from war and oppression. Prison reform. Racial justice. This is not a political statement. Both parties are judged. It is, rather, a moral statement, and I fear, using the image of this parable, we are becoming a nation of goats, not to disparage goats. There is much at stake here. The very soul of our nation, in fact.
“Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” How does this image of power stack up to the images of abuse of power and privilege we have been subjected to over these past weeks? Stories of men of every political stripe harassing and abusing women over whom they had power…stories of abuse of power and privilege by heads of corporations, hedge funds, religious bodies, nations. “When did we see you, Lord?”
“Of the Father’s Love Begotten…ere the worlds began to be, He is alpha and omega, He the source, the ending He.” In Dr. Suess’ wonderful book, On Beyond Zebra, the narrator’s young friend Conrad Cornelius o’Donald o’Dell is learning the alphabet, and after beginning with A is for ape and going through Z is for Zebra, he says, “So now I know everything anyone knows from beginning to end. From the start to the close. Because Z is as far as the alphabet goes.”
Then he almost fell flat on his face on the floor
When I picked up the chalk and drew one letter more!
A letter he never had dreamed of before!
And I said, “you can stop, if you want, with the Z
Because most people stop with the Z
But not me!
In the places I go there are things that I see
That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.
I’m telling you this ‘cause you’re one of my friends.
My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!
The Omega that is God in Christ is on beyond Z, on beyond Zebra. The French Jesuit priest, paleontologist, and mystic Teillard de Chardin said that Christ is the Omega point toward which all creation is headed. Over-all evolution is a movement toward higher consciousness, he said. The Omega point that is the fullness and radiance of Christ is drawing us towards that culmination of history, Teillard said. Deep hope flows over deep time.
For most of us, certainly for most of the world, the alphabet ends with Z. Life ends with death. But the gospel, the good news, in Jesus Christ, assures us that there is a Reality beyond death that can’t be spelled with the world’s alphabet. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor human imagination envisioned what you have prepared for those who love you,” Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth.
But this “Reign of Christ” or Kingdom of heaven is not just for someday, not just in the “sweet by and by.” It is all around and within us, if we have eyes to see. As a young widow wrote on the anniversary of her husband’s death, “Someday is not, in itself, sufficient to get me through this day.” (Jan Richardson, paintedprayerbook, 2014) In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul prays for his friends that they might know “what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” In other words, he prays that they might know God’s resurrection power now. And included in that Reality that is all around us and within us is the radiance of those who have gone on, beyond Zebra, before us.
So it is on this last day of the church year, when the fullness of Christ gathers all in all, we re-member, we are reminded that we are members of one another, still and always, and so we have hope. Deep hope flows over deep time. He is alpha and omega, He the source, the ending He. Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark