• stphilipseasthampt

Time, Title, and Truth

A sermon preached by the Reverend Michael Anderson Bullock

at St. Philip’s, Easthampton, Massachusetts, on 21 November 2021 [Christ the King]:

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

No fault should be taken, if in hearing this gospel from St. John, we get a bit confused. Even to the casual listener, the scene of Pilate interrogating Jesus brings us into the drama of Holy Week; but clearly, we are not in Holy Week. So, why do we hear about Jesus’ trial at this time of the year? What are we to make of this?

In response to these questions and for your own prayerful consideration, I want to offer three observations as place markers for this day. They are time, title, and truth.

The first observation relates to the fact that this is the last Sunday of the Christian year. Through the words of poet T. S. Eliot, we experience how the element of time can play out to expose much more than what a clock measures. Eliot writes:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.[1]

In terms of the church’s calendar, the passage of time is meant to highlight our lives with respect to God. Specifically, today we note that another year has passed. In terms of the liturgical calendar and its purpose, we have once again moved through and with time to catch the rhythms and insights of life on God’s terms. Especially in this past year of pandemic experience, where time seems to have been compressed into an exhausting flatness, the gnawing and lingering questions remain: What have we learned? What have we learned about ourselves? What have we learned about living with God?

In terms of being followers of Jesus in our own time, it seems to me to be entirely appropriate for Christians to mimic our secular New Year’s tradition with the making of resolutions. Will we dare to make God-life resolutions for the coming spiritual year that will help us stake out a path toward the new life we need? Or will we simply keep to the customary and the habitual, settling for recycling our lives and not renewing them?

Time is the first aspect that strikes me about this “last” Sunday. The second stems from this day’s liturgical title: “Christ the King Sunday”, an occasion that implicitly asks this question: Is God’s government set up in our hearts?

This day’s liturgical title, “Christ the King Sunday”, is a relatively new enterprise. That it stems from Pope Pius XI’s very first encyclical in 1922 may have the tendency to scrape the scab of some anti-Catholic bias, causing some among us to chaff at the focus of this day. And yet, all bias aside, some historical context not only illuminates what motivated this early twentieth century proclamation; but it also may shed some much-needed light on our own time, as well.