The other day, The Washington Post had a short piece describing some of the holiday traditions of New York City that will be different this year. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade won’t be happening. The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting is going to be closed to the public. Even the big ball drop for New Year’s Eve in Times Square is going to be mostly virtual.
Closer to home: Last Sunday, Father Passenant noticed something else that was missing: our choir didn’t belt out “Soon and Very Soon,” the Gospel spiritual by Andraé Crouch that we traditionally hear the week before the Feast of Christ the King. With our choir on hiatus because of COVID, we didn’t have the usual rafter-raising recessional.
We are realizing again and again that so much has changed this year.
Nothing is what it was. It can be frustrating and depressing.
But thank God, literally, for today.
In the middle of all this, comes this Sunday and a message for this moment.
One of the phrases we hear often these days is “the new normal.” It captures the changed reality of our time. Well, today is about the “old normal,” the reality that can never change.
This remains constant:
Jesus Christ is King — yesterday, today and forever.
This is something that cannot be altered by a pandemic, or election results, or war, or the weather. In an uncertain time, this is certain:
Jesus Christ is King.
How we need this now!
And how we need the message in this Gospel.
The song I mentioned a moment ago tells us, “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King.”
But today’s Gospel, the beautiful passage from Matthew 25, tells us: we have already seen him.
“’Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
The King is among us. Around us. Close to us every day.
He doesn’t wear a crown or sit on a throne.
He sits on the floor of the subway.
He begs with a cup on a street corner.
He sleeps in an ICU, unable to speak to anyone, because of the virus.
The King is a child, separated from his parents at the border, frightened and alone.
The King is a grandmother, miles from her family, isolated in a nursing home, forgotten and afraid.
The King is an unborn child — discarded, tossed aside, trashed.
“Whatever you did for one of the least, you did for me.”
On the one hand, this Gospel shocks us, because it tells us in no uncertain terms that the King who rules over us, the one who will judge us, comes to us as the smallest, humblest of people. The greatest is found among the weakest.
We will see this again in just a few weeks, when we remember how God entered human history as a helpless baby in a manger, in a world that didn’t have room for him.
He came for all those that the world doesn’t have room for.
But on the other hand, this Gospel convicts us.
How have we treated the King?
What have we done to him? What have we done for him?
During this difficult moment in our history, this Gospel asks hard questions.
What can we do now, in a time of plague and pandemic, for the least among us?
What can we do for the King?
The coming season of Advent offers us an invitation and an opportunity. As we get ready to greet the King in Bethlehem, look for him here and now.
Look for him in the haunted eyes of the lonely, the sick, the hungry, the confused.
And not just those we see huddled on the subway.
We need to look for him everywhere.
Look for him in our families, in those who are scared about the virus, or worried about losing their job.
Look for him among our coworkers — every Zoom meeting, every conference call, every long-distance encounter is a chance to offer a word of hope and compassion and sympathy to someone you may be able to see, but unable to touch.
Look for him online, on social media, among the people we disparage or criticize or mock because we feel so superior or so smart.
Look for him behind every mask, every face shield, every person who pulls away to maintain that six feet of social distance. It may be hard to recognize him. But the King is there.
Christ is there.
Mother Teresa famously said Jesus often comes to us “in the distressing disguise of the poor.” At this moment, perhaps, he comes to us wearing a mask.
On this Feast of Christ the King, as we prepare to receive the King in a sliver of bread, may we also look for him among all who are small, all who are considered the least.
Let us have the courage to look for Christ the King with new eyes, to see with possibility and compassion and hope.
Soon and very soon, we will see him.
Because he is closer than we realize.
Discover more homilies in my eBook, “Preaching Hope,” available as a free bonus to patrons of The Bench