Speaker: Cynthia Lapp
Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Here at Hyattsville Mennonite it is the Sunday before Thanksgiving – and variously Christ the King Sunday, or Christa the Queen Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday. It is a Sunday when we recognize that our allegiance is not to the kings and queens of this world but to the Reign of God. This Sunday doesn’t emerge from the biblical text but from a need that was perceived in 1925 by Pope Pius XI to “counter what he regarded as the destructive forces of secularism in the west and the rise of communism in Russia and fascism in Italy and Spain, harbingers of the Nazism soon to seize Germany.”
Today we might observe Reign of Christ Sunday as a way to oppose rising nationalism – which proclaims that our first loyalty ought to be to the nation we live in, nationalism that maintains we be concerned with ‘our’ borders and those who live within them – given they have ‘proper’ documentation.
Within this country right now, we often add the modifier Christian. Christian Nationalism holds a particular danger as it drapes its concern for country and loyalty not only in the US flag but in the name of God Almighty. To be most accurate about what is happening in this country right now, we add yet one more adjective; that adjective is “white.” White Christian Nationalism elevates White Christians and a particular strict interpretation of the Christian tradition. It sees this interpretation as God ordained and to be used as a Godly legal framework for the country. In a multicultural, multi-faith country like the United States this is problematic – to put it mildly.
As Christian Anabaptists we must say ‘No’ to White Christian Nationalism. Our loyalty is to the way of Jesus. We love and respect the diversity of creation and all creatures, recognizing that creatures, from butterflies to humans, are always on the move, no matter the borders that get drawn. Our loyalty is to the inclusive way of Jesus: in his occupied part of the Empire, Jesus walked with and healed people from various backgrounds and ethnicities, indeed he continually expanded what it means to be a neighbor, who is a neighbor. As followers of the Jesus way, our loyalty is not to particular politicians or political parties but to the way of Jesus who called all people: Jews and Samaritans and gentiles; fisherfolk, tax collectors, and sex workers; grown ups and children.
As if the Reign of Christ was not enough of a theme for the day, this is also Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we remember transgender people who have been killed (in this country most often by guns,) simply for being who they are, for living out their true selves.
Transgender Day of Remembrance may seem a strange pairing with Reign of Christ Sunday. But in this congregation, if we can say Christ the King/Christa the Queen – why not take another step. On this Transgender Day of Remembrance we might stretch even further to say Christ the Queen, Christa the King. Joining of Remembrance and Reign is an opportunity to remember that God came among us, the Holy comes among us, wearing the clothes of a human, dressed as a human.
On this Reign of Christ Sunday we hear a short part of the Passion story from Luke. I am not a big fan of reading these terror texts where Jesus is tortured and killed violently. And yet, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we acknowledge that horrible things still happen, that beloved children of God are still treated with disdain and sometimes killed – this may be the day, of all days, to retell this story.
Each of the four canonical gospels, despite varying details, say that Jesus was crucified with a sign above his head: “This is the king of the Jews.” This ridicule that the Roman soldiers posted was particular to Jesus. Each of the gospels records this, that Jesus was called this name that went against who he understood himself to be. He died misunderstood and called the wrong name.
On this day we remember trans people who have died because of cruelty and hate. We remember that too often they died while being called names they did not choose for themselves, whether a slur or their discarded name from birth. The Human Rights Campaign tracks that so far in 2022, in the United States, at least 32 transgender people have been killed. 81% were people of color, 59% were black. These were real people, with friends, with lives that had meaning, beloved of God.
Jesus is crucified under the sign “King of the Jews” and hangs between two other “criminals.” Matthew and Mark say these other two are robbers who speak cruelly to Jesus even as they experience the torture of crucifixion themselves. Just as Jesus quotes Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” these robbers also speak words from Psalm 22: “He trusts in God, let God rescue him.” The robbers mock Jesus and say that if he truly is the King of the Jews, he would be able to save himself. But Jesus does not answer to this name.
Only Luke’s gospel tells it a bit differently. Yes, Jesus hangs between two criminals with a sign above his head with the false name and charge. But in Luke’s version, only one of those crucified with Jesus hurls abuses at him. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other one somehow has compassion even in his own pain. Does he understand that Jesus’ name literally means “one who heals or saves?”
Keshia Chanel Geter
Shawmayne Giselle Marie
The compassionate thief says to the other criminal, “Do you not even fear God? We are paying the price for what we have done, but this one has done nothing wrong!” Then he says to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Chanelika Y’Ella Dior Hemingway
Ndera Sequence Morris
In Luke, Jesus is seen by this second criminal. Jesus’ innocence, his humanity, his divinity, is seen by this person, despite the excruciating pain of crucifixion. But even in this, the thief does not truly understand who Jesus is. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus responds as he so often does, “The truth is…”
Miia Love Parker
Kenyatta “Kesha” Webster
Kathryn “Katie” Newhouse
Amidst his own pain, Jesus holds onto, holds out, a vision of something more beautiful, more inclusive than a ‘kingdom.’ This is a place where everyone is known and called by their true name. It may not be in this lifetime but sometime ‘soon.’ His vision of the Reign of God never dies. Jesus offers his vision to this one near him on the cross and Jesus reminds himself that it is not a kingdom that Jesus has in mind. “The truth is today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Matthew Angelo Spampinato
In Luke, Jesus gives his final blessing to this one who dies with him. Jesus sees past the label of thief or rebel agitator, or enslaved or whatever the accusation is, whatever the Romans have decided to name him. Jesus sees the person whom God loves and speaks what some may imagine an impossible blessing: “The truth is today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Today we are invited to remember. We are invited to remember Jesus, remember the one who suffered next to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” We remember that we follow one who was given a false name in death. We follow one who saw possibility and promise even when the empire called the neighbor criminal. We remember that we follow one who understood that those who hold the power do not necessarily hold the truth. We remember – those who suffer today, especially Trans people.
White Christian Nationalism demands that we align ourselves with an all powerful God, a God who draws strict lines that cut certain people out and amplifies those in power. White Christian Nationalism sacrifices people of color and trans people, and especially transpeople of color, in order to elevate the false lie that we are all the same, we must all be the same, that God desires we all be the same – as if diversity and change are not part of the blessedness of creation.
On this Reign of Christa/Christ Sunday, on Transgender Remembrance Day, let us remember that we follow a different way. We follow Christ/Christa who was born in poverty, beyond the borders of the family home. We follow Christa/Christ who died under a false name yet recognizes each person and their true, chosen name. We follow the way of Jesus in which even pain and suffering cannot erase the vision: “The truth is today you will be with me in Paradise.”