November 25, 2018

Feast of Christ the King B

Forsaking All Others

GOSPEL

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  John 18:33-37

 

SERMON

At the beginning of the Celebration of the Sacrament of marriage the priest asks those to be married to declare their consent to what is about to happen.  He uses the following words:  “Will you have this person to be your husband/to be your wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage?  Will you love,
comfort,  honor and keep them, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him or her as long as you both shall live?” The response that allows the celebration to continue is, of course, the heartfelt declaration, “I will.”

When I celebrate a marriage, I make an effort to highlight, what I see as the anchor in this declaration, “Forsaking all others.”   I will forsake all others.  Yes, I will forsake all others, that I might be deeply and completely faithful to you and to you alone.

I believe that as a couple strives to live into their marriage vows they will again and again be faced with the challenge to love contained in these words, “Forsaking all others.”

Now ordinarily and, somewhat narrowly, most understand these words be refer to cheating on your spouse with another.  While this is certainly part of it, I believe that the declaration that I will, “Forsake all others” is much broader and far more encompassing than an admonition against an adulterous liaison.

Think about it.  Must not many things be forsaken to grow, and to grow ever more deeply, in love with one’s spouse?

The first, and probably the most difficult to forsake, is the ego and its needs.  For the two to become one, the “I” must struggle to ever more fully surrender itself to the “We”.

Before marriage, I am the center of my world.  I am the decider of my priorities.  I am the one who determines all my responses, my actions, where I commit my time, and my goals.  I define my purpose for living.  Allowing the relationship to decide priorities, responses, decisions, actions, time commitments and goals is a big stretch that takes much practice to be brought to fruition so that the “I” might be come “we”.

Before marriage, the money that I earn is mine to do with as I want and choose.  One might expect, perhaps naively, that my claim to my money would be impacted by the decision to marry.  But money, I have often found in pre-marital counseling sessions, is rarely on the table.  In the decision to become one, even when romance is at its peak, money is often the last thing that gets surrendered to the grinding stone that transforms the “I” into “we” or the “my” into “our”.   Sometimes it never happens.   Often couples choose a safer course, like each contributing 50% to the common pot for the bills and expenses, thus leaving each to hold on to the rest of their earnings as “my” money.  It is not easy to forsake a sense of financial independence and private ownership of what I earn.

Again, as money can be used to hold separate what might otherwise become more deeply one, so too families of origin and a primary attachment to my family of origin can be a wedge that impedes the formation of what is to be the new primary bond.  Sometimes a spouse in a marriage is unable or unwilling to establish a new and healthy boundary between self and parents or self and siblings that honors and gives precedence  to the new primary bond.

I hope these few examples are sufficient for you to get my drift in the “forsaking” which the bond of marital intimacy invites and to which it lays claim, as something far more comprehensive than merely forsaking adulterous liaisons.

You might well be wondering why I would be sermonizing about marriage on this Feast of Christ the King or this Feast of the Reign of Christ.

In today’s gospel the kingship of Christ is brought to center stage in the hour of His arrest, trail, judgment, condemnation, crucifixion and death.  As the hour unfolds it is a kingship that is questioned, challenged, ridiculed, mocked and derided.

And it is in this hour that Jesus owns, clarifies, defines and takes possession of his kingship, of his crown, his scepter, his robe and his throne.

But you might still be wondering about a connection between the marriage metaphor and the reign of Christ.

An ancient Greek icon, is the icon of Christ the Divine Bridegroom.  The icon is an image of Jesus in His hour – the very hour I have just described.  The eyes of the bridegroom, as beacons of the truth that is God’s compassion, love and sovereignty, pierce and light up the soul of the believer who would stand before it in prayer.  In the representation, Jesus stands crowned with thorns, holding the rod that is his scepter, robed with a bloody tunic and anticipating his ascension to his throne – the cross.

The first believers understood and believed that is was in the hour of his arrest, trail, judgment, condemnation, crucifixion and death that Jesus celebrated His wedding nuptials with his beloved bride – the church – his nuptials with us – his marriage to us.

It was in this final hour that Jesus faced and embraced love’s challenge to forsake all others that he might faithfully and deeply embrace us – his beloved bride.

It was in His hour that Jesus also faced another uncompromising claim to his loyalty and allegiance.  He stood before Pilate, the representative of the Emperor Caesar, and faced the challenge to renounce the reign of God and its priorities and affirm the sovereignty, dominance and power of Caesar.

 

There was only one acceptable answer to the question put to him by Pilate who asked – “Are you a King?”  That answer would have been – “There is no king but Caesar.”  Any other answer would be treason.

But in His hour Jesus clearly chose to forsake the power of the world and the primary claim that it would presume to make upon his allegiance and instead declared his fidelity to the reign of God and its priorities – the kingdom that had always been his first love and would remain his first love.

Jesus declares as His priority. He bears witness to the truth that God’s sovereignty is always the first claim that is laid upon us, upon our conscience and upon any and every decision we would make and any action we would take.  In living this truth, we come home to our deepest freedom.

As he faced the consequence of his forsaking all others, Jesus simultaneously faced the aloneness that pieced his very soul as he anticipated and effected his marriage with his bride.

In the moment of his death, Jesus surrendered to and embraced as his own, the final truth of what it means to be fully human.  He faced and embraced death, not from a place of assurance or certainty that would come from the experience of his Divinity, the experience of His oneness with His Father, but rather in full possession of his humanity – a humanity which can only experience death with a Question –  Is this the end of the story? – A question that finds its only assurance in faith and hope and not in certainty.

Do you remember what Jesus cried out in the telling moment of His hour?  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  Yes, in His own forsaking, he experienced being forsaken by his Father.  His bond with the Father, that had always sustained him, was now illusive.

And so, my sisters and brothers, on this Feast of the Reign of Christ, are we ready to declare our consent even as He has declared His? “Will we have Christ to be our spouse; to live together in a covenant of marriage, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to Him, as long as we shall live?”   Will we seek first the Kingdom of God and, forsaking all others, embrace its priorities of justice, love and peace as our first loyalty and our primary allegiance?

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna

November 25, 2018