Sunday of the Fulfillment • Dan 7:9-10, 13-14; Rev 1:4b-8; Jn 18:33-37 • 11/25/18
“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
Jesus’ whole life testifies to the truth of God’s love. Wherever we look in the Gospels, Jesus is teaching, including, healing, raising up. The power of his witness comes from his consistency, his refusal to change his message no matter the pressure or cost. I suspect it’s the purity of his commitment that allows his healings to work. They are not magic tricks or displays of skill. They are openings of a channel.
As he puts it earlier in John’s gospel (7:18),
Those who speak on their own authority seek their own glory, but those who seek the glory of the One who sent them are true, and in them there is no falsehood.
If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.
And God’s will is done. And it looks like failure, defeat, loss, complete absence of power. And nothing less would have opened the gates of Resurrection.
At our best, we recognize that this is how it cosmically works. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” At our best, we belong to the truth.
At our best is not how we always are. Thank goodness for Pilate in this story. He’s all of us on our other days, chasing a very different kind of power. How do things get done around here? Who’s in charge? Are you a king? Are you a challenge to me?
Jesus is not out to challenge Pilate’s political power. He is, however, a challenge to the mindset Pilate exemplifies and that we know so well in ourselves—the need to have our own way, to be right, to look good, to be in control. When my access to these things is in question, I feel as if my survival is at stake.
T.S. Eliot puts it well in “Journey of the Magi,” as the magi return home.
…were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
It’s the death, he goes on to say, of a way of life.
And yet it is also a Birth, an entry into new life. Because once our grip is loosened, once we remember and find the grace to say Your will be done, the channel opens. And the Power beyond power flows through, and there is revelation and healing.
Here’s an example. When I was a graduate student, brains and success ranked high in my book. I thought I had the first and was well on the way to the second. My advisor, John Perry, was hosting a research seminar with a lot of very smart people in it… and one visiting scholar who seemed a little slow to me. I felt irritated by how often she raised her hand, and I kept waiting for John to shut her down so we could move on.
John did the opposite. He used his power as facilitator to make sure she had every opportunity to be heard and to participate fully. I’m sure he didn’t make himself popular by doing so. But he taught a lesson and gave a gift I’m still opening.
I need that gift now. As it turned out, I didn’t have a successful academic career. The shame of this stopped me from keeping in touch, despite owing John thanks. In letting shame stop me, I surrendered to the Pilate-like obsession with effectiveness, reputation, success—what the world calls power.
But John’s intentional inclusiveness opened the door to a different kind of power… the power of caring and respect that flow among people regardless of worldly standing. Only as I tell you this story do I realize this door is calling me to walk through it and contact him.
Revelation and healing like this are the hallmarks of holy power—the kind of power, or “dominion,” that Jesus facilitates. When we have the courage to testify to the truth of God’s love, we too are channels for holy power. This power, unlike Pilate’s kind, is inclusive. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Listed in our lectionary as Sunday of the Fulfillment, today is widely celebrated as the feast of Christ the King. The glorious reading from Daniel foreshadows the crowning of a cosmic King, and Revelation affirms this foreshadowing to be fulfilled in Christ. Today’s feast was instituted in the face of rising nationalist strife just under a century ago, as a reminder of the Power beyond all worldly powers. The nature of this ultimate Power is featured in the Gospel. It’s the power of committed love.
This feast completes the annual liturgical cycle. We’ve witnessed Jesus’ life story from the beginning to where it opens out into our own. May we know we belong to the truth, and so listen and follow its Voice.