Christ the King C – November 20, 2022
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bellingham – Christ the King C – November 20, 2022
Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Canticle 16 (Luke 1:68-79)
The Rev. Rachel Endicott
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Most years when we get to this final day of our church cycle, the celebratory day of Christ the King, I’ve preached on – yes, as you probably suspected – Christ as King. I’ve explored with you and others various images of kingship, particularly how it relates to our Savior, the one we name as the Messiah and who died under an inscription that marked him as King, depending on which Gospel you read in one or even three languages.
But this year, something different struck me as we come to the end of Year C, so the final Sunday of our three-year liturgical cycle, the final lectionary readings before we start anew next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent. What struck me this year was the twice used expression about being raised up. In Jeremiah, as we also find spoken by the Prophet Isaiah (4:2), the Lord says that better days are coming and that God will raise up for David a righteous Branch. Branch carries with it Messianic understandings; this is not simply a good shepherd, but also king. If you notice in our written text this morning, the word Branch is capitalized because it is understood by Christians as they look back into the writings of the prophets to refer to Christ, so thus capitalized.
And the image of being raised up doesn’t stop here with the Old Testament prophets. (8:30) In the paraphrase of The Song of Zechariah, hymn 444, that we just sang, the hymn writer transposes the direct reference in the Scriptural text which says that “God has raised up for us a mighty savior, born of the house of his servant David” to as Michael Perry puts it in verse 2: “He from the house of David a child of grace has given; a Savior comes among us to raise us up to heaven.” So Perry not only has Jesus raised up by God, but expands it in light of being raised to new life. (10:30) In Canticle 16, The Song of Zechariah, from the first chapter of Luke (Luke 1:68-79), our text says that God has “raised up for us a mighty savior, bon of the house of his servant David.” So from Adam, through David, we have the Savior coming as the righteous Branch.
And in spite of the references to kingship and Branch, I kept coming back to this turn of phrase, of being raised up. What might we glean from its earlier use? As importantly, what does it mean for us in the here and now?
Certainly, the use of the term being raised up in both today’s Old Testament and Canticle readings is important. It is good news, hopeful at its very core. It is anticipatory news about the Messiah. It heralds an intervention in the world by a God who loves God’s people. It ties God to continuing God’s work in the world. And it’s an active verb. In the Jeremiah passage, it is in the future, “when I will raise up…”. In the Canticle, Zechariah knows that this has already happened, that the God who has “come to his people and set them free” has also “raised up” for them a mighty savior.
And, for us in the here and now, we need to be aware that we are the body of Christ here on earth in the present time. We have and continue to be raised up to do the work of Christ in the world. We are raised up individually – our various vocations are part of this whether we’re lay people, deacons, priests, or bishops. And we are raised up to serve, to serve the poor, imprisoned, downcast, and so much more. We are raised up to spread the Good News; we share with joy that we know who the savior from David’s line is. We know of that gift given to us. Jesus.
One of our parishioners recently loaned me a copy of Lauren Winner’s book, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God. (Isn’t that a great title?!!!) In her chapter on smell as a way to meet God, she shares a story from Kimberly Jackson’s. Jackson writes: “A student of mine called me late one evening after worship. He was really excited on the other end, and I had to ask him to slow down. So, he says, “Mother Kim, this strange thing happened to me today. After worship tonight, I was riding the train back to my apartment, when this woman sat down next to me. I had my earbuds in, so I wasn’t really paying her any attention, but she tapped me to get my attention. She said, ‘Son, you smell like church. You smell like church.’”
Now the Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians that those who know Christ have a particular smell. When we come to know God—come to trust and believe in the power of God’s love, there’s an aroma, a fragrance that lingers in the room even after we leave. To borrow from the words of the woman on the train, when we encounter God, we begin to “smell like church.” Or to borrow from Paul, “We smell like Christ.”
… That evening on the phone with my student, I asked him what happened next. He said, “She started to cry. And she looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you. I haven’t been to church in a long time.’””1
With this in mind, I am convinced that we are raised up to help others to meet God, to encounter Christ, to find their way into the presence of the Holy Spirit. And it’s not only if we’ve been at church recently, perhaps even surrounded by clouds of incense. It’s our very essence that is nurtured, chosen, raised up to be all that we can be.
And sometimes, it’s a simple a minding our own business or just being there. And like with the example of the young student, sometimes we find ourselves in just the right place at the right time as we go about our lives. He provided a sensory reminder of the love of God and presence of “church” to the woman in the train. And it was powerful.
Sometimes we are raised up to more active ministry. I think of the stories of people who were raised up to serve those who were hurting – perhaps they become those who ministered to the lepers, the Mother Teresas who served the poor, and others. I think of prophets who were raised up to bring hopeful news to folks. I think about those who were raised up to travel, sometimes to the ends of the earth, to work for climate justice, to help underserved groups, or to simply be people of God.
And it’s not just individuals that I believe God raises up. Communities are raised up. This community, who names itself after Paul, has been raised up. Raised up over a hundred years ago, but more recently raised up again from the constraints of a world with pandemic, social upheaval, and – just to throw more in – a flood.
But we are to be thankful. Just as Zechariah proclaims, we are to remember that God has come to God’s people. God has even raised up a savior for us. And from that, we are raised up. Jesus’ light does shine on us and on all the people of God. As those who have been raised up, may our feet continue to be guided in the way of peace.
1 Kimberly Jackson (no additional citation) in Lauren F. Winner, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God. San Francisco: Harper One, 2015, p. 78.