Recently, my daughter, Grace moved to Washington, DC to study for her Master of Divinity at Wesley Theological Seminary, the same school where I earned my Master of Theological Studies in Christian Social Ethics. So, of course, lately, I have been reflecting on my years living in our nation’s capital. These years were profound years of growth and learning and I realize that I would not be who I am without my experience there.
Truthfully, so much of what I experienced living in DC has never left my mind; however, there are certain times of the year when I think about it more. Reign of Christ Sunday and the four Sundays of Advent are some of those times.
During my first semester at Wesley I took a worship class and learned about the Reign of Christ Sunday—the last Sunday of the liturgical year and the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent. I had never heard of this particular Sunday before. As I was growing up the churches I attended did not observe this particular Sunday.
Why did we need a separate Sunday to observe Christ as our king? Don’t we do that every Sunday?
I learned about this particular Sunday well during this class. On this day we celebrate, not the crucifixion or the resurrection of Christ, but the glory of his reign in our lives and in the life of the world. It is a significant Sunday because it not only closes out the liturgical year, but foreshadows the anticipation of Advent and the coming of the Christ child and shattering of darkness by light. On Reign of Christ Sunday, we remember that Christ came to bring justice, grace, forgiveness, mercy, and peace.
In theory, I knew exactly what Reign of Christ Sunday was and is, but it was not until that Advent that I began to understand it in the depths of my being.
During those first few months that I lived in our nation’s capital I tried to acquaint myself with the city and discover the ends and outs. On occasion I was downtown at night and was struck, as most people, with the amount of people living on the street. I must admit that at first I was afraid of them. I didn’t want to talk to them. I didn’t want them to approach me and ask me for anything.
That Advent, something clicked in me and I realized that if the Reign of Christ were here on earth now, there would be no one who needed help desperately. All people would have access to shelter and a way to provide for themselves. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if they were on the streets because of addiction or mental illness or if they were forgotten. Suddenly I saw these folks as people, like me and the rest of God’s children, in need of grace and mercy and healing.
As this understanding dawned on me I remember whispering to myself, “Come, Lord Jesus. Quickly come.”
Come , Lord Jesus. Quickly come.
That year there was much tension in the D.C. Area because it seemed that the whole country was pushing to build up our arsenal of nuclear weapons. I have written about this period of my life before. It is a period that I remember vividly. The tension, the emotion, the fear of that time took hold of my life.
Growing up in North Carolina, in small towns and going to college where my greatest concern was how much practice time I could get in each day on the piano and with my voice, did not leave me much time or desire to explore the growing concerns of nuclear war. In the first months of my living in DC our forces invaded Granada and suddenly, the threat of war became a concern for everyone.
That fall was also the air date for the TV movie The Day After–a movie that showed the horrors of nuclear war and the harsh reality that no one—no one—could win a nuclear exchange. There was much tension in DC which seemed even greater for the seminary community as we struggled with the Gospel’s view of war. Again, that Advent I remember thinking that if the reign of Christ were here on this earth, right now, there would be no threat of war and peace—peace of soul, peace of mind, peace of heart, peace on earth—would prevail. Again I whispered, “Come, Lord Jesus. Quickly come.”
Come, Lord Jesus. Quickly come.
Many changes and realizations came about in my life that fall. I began to realize just how many hungry people there are in this world. I listened to international students talk about conditions in their home countries. I read lots and lots of journals and publications dealing with food insecurity around the world. Although I could not completely imagine what it would be like to be hungry day after day, I could imagine the horror of dying where it seemed that no one cared enough to see that I got some bread. Again, I found myself thinking that if the reign of Christ were here on this earth, right here right now, there would be no hunger and children, all over the world, would have a chance to grow up. Again I whispered “Come, Lord Jesus. Quickly come.”
Come, Lord Jesus. Quickly come.
One night I was walking with a friend, when I heard myself say: “I have been praying for Christ to come. Finally, I know what Reign of Christ Sunday is for. It is to remind us that our world is in trouble and we need Christ to reign—really reign—so I have been praying this Advent season for Christ to come.”
Honestly, that confession of my prayer was difficult to make to my friend. All my years of growing up in the south had drilled into me that the coming of Christ would be horrible because it seemed to me that in the process of coming to take away the faithful, Christ would be seeing just how many Unfaithful he could catch. Those who were faithful would be taken away on a cloud. Those who were unfaithful would be left to endure horrors and agonies beyond comprehension. Nothing of love and compassion of Christ, nor the concern that Christ has for all people ever came through in this description of Christ’s coming. Praying for the coming of Christ was not something that I ever felt I could do and yet, that Advent I saw Christ for the first time as one that wanted, more than anything, to see all the people of the earth content and at peace. No want for food or clothing, homes or companionship would be overlooked and all basic needs for thriving would be satisfied.
I remember my friend stopping, right on the sidewalk, turning to me and saying, “I know what you mean Alicia, but until all of the followers of Christ learn that the reign of Christ has come within them, then it will be a long time before Christ and the reign of love and peace will be. It is here on earth. It is within you. It is within me. It is within all people who find themselves concerned about the things that Christ is concerned about. Each time we act on our concern, the reign of Christ comes for someone else. The reason for Reign of Christ Sunday is to remind us that we have a part in bringing about this reign.”
It was as if all traffic stopped and all the stars in the sky shown brighter, as if in agreement with my friend. It wasn’t wrong for me to be praying for Christ to come, but I was praying for him to come and fix things so I could live a life free of care and worries about the people around me. What I needed to be praying for was that the reign of Christ would come within me so that through me the reign of Christ could come for someone else. I needed to find the reign of Christ in my heart and to see, that the concerns for people and for this world that were heavy on my heart, were compelling me to action for Christ and with Christ.
I am still working on this. I am still praying that the reign of Christ will come within me. Some days I get it right. Some days I need deeper prayer. And each year when Reign of Christ Sunday comes around I realize that I am still committed to this prayer and to the changes that this prayer makes in me.
Honestly, this year I find myself asking if it ever makes a difference—this deep prayer of my heart to find the reign of Christ within me. It is one of the most difficult things for me to understand why, after all this time, our world does not look more like the reign of Christ’s love and peace and mercy. And this year, instead of being closer to the reign, it feels like we are farther away. As I write this, I am aware that over 300 people were killed at a mosque in Egypt as they were praying on Friday. Today, off the coast of Libya, thirty-one migrants have perished as their boat sinks. Children were among the dead. And there are reports from all over of violence on Black Friday—a day that caters to the desire for more stuff that, for me, mars the Advent and Christmas seasons and has extended throughout the world.
Come, Lord Jesus. Quickly come.
As I think about all of this I am reminded of Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the sheep and goats. Clearly, in this teaching, Jesus is trying to offer the better way. He proclaims that there will be those who will be welcomed into the reign of Christ—the kingdom of heaven—because they offered food and clothing and drink and encouragement and companionship to Jesus. Stunned, the faithful ask Jesus when that ever happened and Jesus answered that whenever an act of kindness or compassion—large or small—was offered to anyone it was offered to Jesus. And those who did not offer kindness to Jesus–whenever an act of kindness or compassion is withheld from anyone–it is without from Jesus and those people who withhold compassion will be sent away to punishment.
I have thought about this passage a great deal this Thanksgiving week. Jesus is asking that we look at everyone and see him in each of them and to offer kindness and compassion whether we think they deserve it or not. How do we do that?
I am beginning to realize that, for me, I need to separate myself more from what the world says I need to be involved in. I need to unplug more. I need to be quiet more. I need to connect with nature more. I need to sit in prayerful silence more. So, I have made an effort this fall to do these things. On Wednesday, I knew that I was on the right path as I was hiking. All around me were sounds of peace—quiet water running in the river, breezes blowing in the trees, crunching leaves under my feet, songs from birds who are staying here for the winter. There was no human noise at all except for the occasional bits of conversation with my daughter.
What I felt on that hike was the peace I have been seeking this fall. And I felt the presence of God quietly making me aware that this was all I really need to find the reign of God in my heart—a focus on peace of Christ that is already within me.
May it be so.
To God alone be glory!