Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ the Knave?

The Knave of Hearts,
he stole my heart
and took it clean away.

                  --English nursery rhyme, adapted.

To be completely honest, I've always had a hard time with today's Feast of Christ the King. All that "His, the scepter, His, the throne" stuff just doesn't ring true for me when it comes to Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth. I know, I know -- he's God, he can be whatever he wants! -- but he's so much more than the title "King" can ever convey to me. I have no real experience of a king of any kind.

Fortunately, this year, thanks to an experience this past summer, I'm looking at things a little differently.

I think my problem with celebrating the kingship of Christ comes partly from having studied church history in my twenties. Since those studies, it has always seemed to me that this annual celebration of Jesus' kingship was more like the hierarchy's feeble attempt to align the wealth and power it amassed with the glory and majesty of God, rather than anything Jesus would claim for himself. It seemed to me that if the princes of the Church could somehow link Jesus to the wealth and worldly power that the greatest of kings had while downplaying his actual message to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison, that might make it okay for the church to own bishops' palaces and gold-gilded altarpieces and fantastic frescoes and rule as Holy Roman Emperors or... Popes.

But actually, this feast day came about under the watch of Pope Pius XI after the First World War. It was the Pope's well-meaning effort to make Jesus a King above all others, and encourage the faithful to turn away from the nationalistic and secularist thinking that was pervasive at the time. The problem, of course, is that the very idea of "King" comes with a lot of baggage. It's a human construct, and it hardly speaks to the age we inhabit because most of the kings we know are merely unreachable figureheads or celebrities, with very little to do with ordinary people.

But our God has everything to do with ordinary people. God is not about thrones or scepters or palaces or even basilicas. God is with us as we live, breathe, and go about our ordinary lives. And Jesus, who seems to have known and understood God better than any other human being who ever lived, because, well, he's God, too, told us the most important things we need to know -- that we are to love God with all our heart, mind and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves -- to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. Everything else is distraction. Including categories like king or carpenter.

This idea was underlined during my visit to Taizé this summer (click here for a recap), where I spent a lot of time singing and praying in the Church of Reconciliation, which is basically a large but very simple worship space. There are candles and brightly coloured cloths hanging behind the altar, maybe a dozen icons, and perhaps that many small, square stained glass windows in one wall, and that's the extent of the richness and majesty in the building. And yet, I felt closer to God there than I ever did in St. Peter's at the Vatican. The simplicity of Taizé's church and its meditative ecumenical prayer brought me to God in a powerful, distraction-free way.

On my last morning in Taizé, I was walking down the road toward the church, reflecting on an idea that had struck me the evening before at prayer -- that Jesus would feel more at home in the inclusive and welcoming Communauté de Taizé than in the huge, ornate (and often rather empty) churches in Europe. That's when I found a playing card face down on the path, the very fellow you see at the top of this post. I laughed aloud. He likely fell from the deck of one of the 800 German youth who populated Taizé that week. A nine of diamonds wouldn't have meant so much! It was as though Jesus was telling me that he wasn't as interested in being a king of anything, as he was happy to be the knave of my heart, and of everyone else's, too. After all, knaves are so much more accessible than kings.

Jesus never claimed a throne or dominion. He never professed to be loftier than anyone else, either -- when Pilate tried to insinuate that Jesus was trying to usurp the authority of Herod/Rome, Jesus told him, "My kingdom is not of this world." That's because he was more interested in our hearts than any kind of wealth, power, glory, or fame. He only wanted to rightfully claim his place as a child of God, and encourage everyone else to do the same, underlining God's love over and over again.

So it's not that Jesus is King of the Universe or King of Heaven that I want to focus on today. Instead, it's the way that he knew and lived God's love, and showed it to me, and asked me to show it to my sisters and brothers in need -- that's what makes Christ the all important and most loving Knave of my Heart.

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