Saturday, November 22, 2014

‘Lord, when did we see you…?’

Sunday of Christ the King (23.11.2014)

Readings: Ezek. 34:11-16,20-24; Eph. 1:15-23; Matt. 25:31-46.

Among my great and most frivolous pleasures are the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. You know the sort of thing: great tunes that you can hum to and hilarious lyrics that may haunt the back of your mind at the oddest moments. 

One that comes to mind today is Iolanthe which pokes fun at the legal and political establishment of the time, especially The House of Lords. What I best remember from Iolanthe is the ‘Nightmare song’ by the Lord Chancellor and the way this tremendously powerful establishment figure finds his whole world turned upside down in his broken slumbers.

For you dream you are crossing the channel, and tossing
About in a steamer from Harwich,
Which is something between a large bathing machine
And a very small second class carriage,

And you're giving a treat (penny ice and cold meat)
To a party of friends and relations,
They're a ravenous horde, and they all come aboard
At Sloane Square and South Kensington stations.

And bound on that journey, you find your attorney
(who started this morning from Devon);
He's a bit undersized and you don't feel surprised
When he tells you he's only eleven.

You get the idea?  There’s a moment for this man when the world he thought he knew, and had such a secure place in is suddenly twisted around and feels vaguely recognizable but also bizarre and strange.

Isn’t that a most uncomfortable feeling?  That the world we think we know does not make sense? 

For me that sort of feeling is the key to cracking open the shell around this gospel that we have all heard and so allow this gospel to speak to us, however disconcerting it may be or how uncomfortable it may make us feel.

So when I look at this gospel both groups, the righteous and the unrighteous, are panic stricken, confused and disoriented.  Both groups keep asking ‘Lord, when did we see you…?’  There is a terrifying sense of incomprehension: none of the people in either side can understand what is going on, the justice for it, the rationale. 

No one’s actions were founded on an understanding or principle.  It all looks crazy and anarchic. For a lot of us that is scary.

What we see in this gospel is a complete lack of any identification with belief or culture.  The people who are ‘saved’ are saved because of their charitable actions toward anyone in need.
That turns a lot of things around quite drastically.  

For a start, the fundamentalist who insists on a whole list of orthodox beliefs as essential for salvation is suddenly confronted with this story of a judgement where all that matters is the goodness you have shown toward anyone who needed it.  Getting your faith or theology right is not quite the point!

So, the point is … what?

Let me try … at least to where I have got for the moment.

May it be that what matters is a radical freedom, a profound transformation in us? Something that frees us to love generously and unconditionally?

It may take a lifetime getting there; or it may take only a moment of surrender. 

The wise or foolish women, the one-talent servant, the unforgiving slave – these stories from previous Sundays shake us and move us to new ways of thinking and of being. 

But this Sunday’s gospel, the last for this liturgical year; the last before Advent: this gospel sweeps us to the end of time, the rolling up of everything – and says this is what matters!  

And we stammer … ‘Lord, when did we see you?’

Let’s change how we live!  

   Come along to the ‘Thinking Through the Scriptures' next Wednesday and see where we get to!

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