The Feast of Christ the King is celebrated on the last Sunday before Advent, and this year it is November 23rd. It is an official Solemnity instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1952. According to his encyclical, it should be a time of remembering that a Christian’s allegiance to God should come before all other loyalties, and thus serve to unite us in peace regardless of whatever personal, political, and sectarian issues might divide us. As I consider the meaning of this Feast, it very easily connects in my mind with the world into which Jesus would be born and the place that he would take in that world. Beyond that, it speaks to me of a common experience for those pursuing a mystical relationship with God.
The nation of Israel and the Jewish faith have a long history of desire for the coming of the Messiah, and especially in the form of a Divine King who will bring peace and harmony to all humanity. This theme runs throughout the story of Jesus and his disciples, some of whom were zealots and hoped he would lead them in a divinely sanctioned political solution to the plight of Israel. We Christians, and Muslims too, are heirs to this doctrine. In some accounts, Jesus seems to have promised he would fulfill it, even if only after his crucifixion and resurrection. It also appears that some of his followers continued to expect him to return and play that role after his ascension to heaven. Even now there are many Christians who consider that to be the prophetic promise of Revelations, just as there are many Jews who continue to wait for the Messiah King, and Muslims with similarly fervent beliefs. For just a moment, take some time to reflect on the many millions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims who have spent their lives hoping, praying, longing, and even pleading for God’s presence to manifest in this world in such a tangible and dramatic way. How many of these people, how many generations of them, have staked their lives upon it, have gone to their graves and even sent others to their graves for it, and yet never saw their hopes and prayers fulfilled?! That history may be a powerful testimony of faith, and even beautiful in some ways, but are there not also profound threads of tragedy and sadness running through this legacy of our religions?
Interestingly, it can be argued that Jesus never meant to be taken literally about any of that, but that he was instead urging his followers to completely reenvision the Kingdom of God. Many of us regard Jesus as teaching us to seek a transformation in our hearts that then radiates God’s love out into the world through our presence. We consider this to be closer to the life Jesus actually lived, and more worthy of our time and energy than begging for a Holy Dictator to come clean up our mess for us.
For now, I’d like to note that many people who consider themselve mystics, or perhaps aspire to be mystics, have a parallel notion in their minds and desire in their hearts. When we read the accounts of some of the great Christian mystics, it can be easy to expect that the coming of God’s presence will be a dramatic experience that overthrows all our doubts and sense of separateness from God. We hope for an event in which Jesus descends from the heavens to fill us with a fantastic flood of light, life, and love. We dream of a personal Apocalypse in which the Messiah delivers us from the mess of our own personal humanity. And why shouldn’t we want something like that, especially when some of those who have claimed it happened to them also claim that we can have it too?
But, just as there is a parallel between our desires for a political Messiah and our desires for a personal revelation of mystical union with God, perhaps there is also a parallel with the fact that Jesus didn’t come back as a Messiah King during the lives of his immediate disciples, or during the lives of the following generation, or the one after that, and so on for generation after generation through the present day. Perhaps, just as we can come to a new and more fruitful understanding of what Jesus meant by the coming of the Kingdom, the parallel is coming to a new and more fruitful understanding of mystical revelation that doesn’t depend upon an extraordinary experience.
What might that new and more fruitful understanding be? I think there were some well known scriptural answers to that question even before Jesus. Consider first the story of Elijah:
Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
So, unlike the dramatic way in which Moses encountered the immediate presence of God, Elijah’s experience of direct communication was only “a still small voice.”
Likewise, in Psalms 46:10, in the middle of many dramatic verses about God’s power in the world and praising and exalting God, there is this one small statement about actually knowing God:
Be still, and know that I am God
These scriptures that Jesus and many of his twelve would have known, urge us to realize that knowing God’s presence isn’t always a sudden and dramatic event. An experience of God may be very quiet and gentle, and perhaps so much so that we might not even recognize it for what it is.
And then there is the prayer that Jesus spoke for his followers as recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter 17. In that prayer he expresses his desire that his followers and their followers will come to know their oneness with God just as Jesus does, which is certainly one of the most mystical things in the Bible. He finishes that prayer with these words:
And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved me may be in them, and I in them.
That statement highlights love as the revelation of our union with God, and it is echoed in 1 John, chapter 4:
If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby we know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit. … And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.
There are many important things that could be drawn out of these words, but for now it is especially noteworthy that the love that is God is not something highly unusual that only comes to a specially blessed mystic. It is the love we have for one another!
O Holy One Who is Love itself, help us to be aware of Your mystical presence in our ordinary lives. Let us know You are with us through the love that we receive from others and that we give to others. As we encounter every smile on the faces of others and on our own faces, every kind word spoken by others and by us, every gentle touch given by others and by us, as we experience every simple act and expression of human love, let us realize it as an immediate manifestation of Your love, a ray of Your light that stretches directly back to the Source, the very Heart of Divine Love. May we know Love as the great King of our lives. Amen.