Sunday, November 24, 2013

Of Kings and Presidents


"The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need [those] who can dream of things that never were and ask why not?" This is among my favorite quotes of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  I don’t know about you, but I was transfixed this week by the remarkable coverage of the 50th anniversary of his assassination in the news.  His death was a turning point in our nation; one that signaled, I think, the transition from the more halcyon days that preceded it into the decades of turmoil that have followed.

I was thinking of that quote and President Kennedy as I was reflecting on today’s feast.  Today we bring our Church year to an end with the Solemnity of Christ the King.  And, this can initially be an odd feast for us as Americans.  After all, our national identity in so many ways is one that rejects the notion of royalty.  As Americans, we honor the voice of the people above that of the Divine Right of Kings and Queens. Yet, I was thinking of President Kennedy because, of course, the Kennedy family has represented for some a quasi-royalty in this country; and if not today, certainly in those days of Camelot before that fateful moment 50 years ago.

But, if there is a notion of Kingship that we can latch onto, there is perhaps a very American way that we can come to understand it.  There is a story about another president who also met the same fate as that of JFK.  In April 1865, the slain body of President Abraham Lincoln lay in state for a few hours in Cleveland, Ohio on its final journey from the nation’s capital to Springfield, Illinois. In the long line of people filing by to pay respects to the President was a poor black woman and her little son.  When the two reached Lincoln’s body, the woman lifted her son and said to him in a hushed voice, “Son, you take a long, long look at him. That man died for you.”

What was said of Lincoln on that day, can be said in a profoundly deeper and everlasting way about Jesus today and every day.  Perhaps we struggle with a purely earthly notion of royalty whereby someone has power and position simply because they were born into the right family.  We are a nation that believes you can achieve any heights if you just work hard enough.  Now, Jesus is certainly our King simply because of who He is – the Son of God.  But, He is also our King because of what He did – He died for us; He redeemed each and every one of us; His death on the cross reunited each one of us with God.  So, we take a long, long look at Him. Because, that Man died for us.

But, this second notion of Kingship, I think, is one that we can all get behind.  It is a kingship that is not based on power and domination, but one that is based on service and love and compassion.  The ultimate sign of Jesus as our King is not to be found with Him seated high on a throne, but rather to be seen with Him lifted high on the Cross.  It is there that He reigns.  And, isn’t that the image that our Gospel give us today.   “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

A number of years ago, divers discovered a 400 year old Spanish shipwreck buried in water off the coast of Northern Ireland.  Among the treasures they found on that ship was a man’s gold wedding ring.   Etched into the wide band of the ring was a hand holding a heart and these words: “I have given myself completely to you. I have nothing more to give you.”   Those same words could just as well be the words of Christ our King who united Himself with us on the Cross so that we might be ushered into His Kingdom. “I have given myself to you totally. There is nothing more to give to you.” 

And we remember today, that Jesus is not only our King, but that He wants to be an inspiring one.  He wants us to look at Him; to see how self-less and giving He is and for our natural response to be one of imitation.  We should all want to be like our Great King.  We should all strive to live up to those same words, “I have given myself totally” – given in service to our brothers and sisters; given in love to our family and friends; given in charity to the neediest among us; given in prayer to those who are lonely and neglected.  Let us be like our King. Let us be like Jesus. Let us be defined not by our last name, or where we were born, or simply who we are – let us be defined by these same characteristics of the Kingdom: are we as kind and loving and joyful and compassionate and forgiving as our King? 

A whole generation was inspired by the call to service issued by JFK and so let me end with what would have been words of his.  This is from the speech that he would have given that night in Dallas, but never had the chance to offer: "We ask…that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward [all].’ That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’”

We can achieve this goal of peace on earth, good will toward all – if we simply follow the lead, not of mere earthly leaders, but of our Divine Leader of our Great King, of Jesus Christ our King.
My friends, may Christ always reign in our hearts and in our lives as our King; and let us follow where He leads.

And may God give you peace.

1 comment:

  1. I was in 5th grade at St Francis Xavier school in New Milford, Connecticut the day JFK was assassinated. It's still very clear in my mind. Since then I have done a lot of reading about JFK. The one thing that is clear is that he went through a kind of redemption after the bay of pigs and the missile crisis . He transformed from a cold warrior to trying to end the cold war after he saw how close we approached WW III. His speech at American University on June 10, 1963 was one of the great reversals of US foreign policy and he faced a stone wall of opposition from the military because of it. But he did not back down. Unfortunately after his assassination we resumed the cold war.

    - Steven Minnerly