Today is another grim day in the United States. Today it is confirmed that at least 250,000 Americans have died of Covid-19. A quarter of a million of our fellow citizens have died since February. To put some context on that number, in less than one year over we have lost half as many people as we lost to combat deaths in our four years of fighting in World War II. The entire population of Scottsdale, AZ has died. Since the first known death from Covid-19 on February 6th, an average of 871 people have died every day. That is the equivalent to the number of deaths on 9/11 every 3.4 days. And just to bring it a bit closer to home, 250,000 is 80% the population of Lexington, KY. I can’t imagine if four out of every five people I knew had just died in the last year.
And the numbers are only going up.
This Sunday is traditionally known as Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday. Normally I would write some rousing piece about how Jesus is sovereign, God reigns, victory and triumph and … I can’t even finish the sentence. After this miserable year in our country what does it mean to celebrate the Reign of Christ?
For me, when we talk of God’s sovereignty and the reign of Christ, we might have the wrong end of the stick. That is not to say that God is not sovereign, but that we imagine it the wrong way. When we think of kings and political rulers in this world we imagine the force and violence inherent in those systems. “Off with her head!” comes to mind. The monarch has the monopoly on violence and we, the plebs, suffer what we must. The absolute sovereignty imagined in this world is alone at the top of a steep pyramid with no one who understands. It is the worst of “Great Man History” where the fate of the universe hangs on the decisions of one person. Honestly, this is the model of governance many in this country aspire to, and even more honestly, this is the model of governance the Church is based on and aspires to.
It is not so with Jesus. He reached for the opposite. Jesus had a vision of a new and renewed Israel where each person could rest under their own vine and fig tree (was responsible for the self) and no one would make them afraid (responsible to the neighbor). He envisioned a world where valleys would be raised up (think about the poor and the disinherited) and mountains would be brought low (we rich folks are indicted in this one). The reign of Christ is not about establishing a monarchical line, but establishing an egalitarian community. Jesus is the first-born from the dead, not the only or the last. Jesus is the first among equals, and those equals are you and me, his kindred in this new truly human family. And in that new humanity, we find that we are connected to divinity. Jesus’ vision of sovereignty is participatory, egalitarian, generous, and self-giving.
In these grim days, we too, need to aspire to that same vision of sovereignty. Jesus shows us that those of us with the privilege to work from home must have compassion and not make demands on the poor and needy who can’t and not to blame them. We owe it to each other to wear our mask and wash our hands. In order to let everyone rest under their vine and fig tree and not be afraid, we change our behaviors to protect those who are especially vulnerable to this disease, those who have no helper or advocate but us. We are the only ones who can embody the hope of the Risen Christ in this world. This is a test of our commitment to this Way of Jesus, and to be 100% clear, we are failing.
This pandemic is our chance to prove that the Church is not a club or a slogan. We have to be more than the Church because God could raise up a church from the stones on the ground. This is the chance to be Christ. This is the moment to give up a portion of our life so that the world may live. 250,000 Americans are confirmed dead and there have been many more people who have died needlessly either from the virus or from a lack of resources to help with routine medical issues. This Reign of Christ Sunday the question is set before us: Will we be Christ or not?