A Challenge to Our Secular Lives
“Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you?” (Jn. 18:24).
Christ looks into Pilate’s eyes, and challenges him. Pilate asks a simple question, “Are you the king?” Christ responds with a question: “Why are you asking?” It is a question of sincerity. Is Pilate searching genuinely for the King of Life? Or is he simply parroting the crowds? This is our challenge too, in our faith and our life. Do we say, “Christ is King,” with our lips only? Do we believe on an intellectual level solely, for sentimentality sake, or because we were raised to do so? Or do we live out, “Christ is King,” with our hearts and breath? Today, the Feast of Christ the King, confronts us to look into our lives and determine who sits on the throne.
In Dublin, Ireland, 1989, Marcel Lefebvre gave his famous speech.“We need to do everything possible,” he preached, “to extend this Kingdom of Jesus Christ in our souls, in our bodies, in our families, in our countries. We must extend the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in our minds by the prac¬tice of the…Faith… We must extend this Kingdom of Jesus Christ in our wills, by following the laws of Jesus Christ, and in our families, so that He rules all.” It is ironic that this speech came when it did. Ireland resisted the tug of secularism long after its European neighbors. The Church was still the core of culture, but that core was already beginning to crumble as he spoke. Lefebvre knew what was on the horizons. He hoped to prepare them. What will your faith become in modern society? How will your Christianity hold to the pressures of liberalism and consumerism? So, we too, must ask ourselves, in our culture and our lifestyle: is Christ our King?
“ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν” - “The Kingdom of God is in your midst” (Lk. 17:21).
It is worth a moment to stop and ponder what Christ means in these words. You can almost put yourselves in the place of the apostles. They were in Galilee. Maybe they were sitting outside, or were perhaps in the synagogue, scratching their brows. Is he talking about a literal kingdom or something purely spiritual? Is he talking about our earthly lives or maybe eternity in paradise? What does it mean: “The Kingdom of God is in your midst?” First, he is talking about the Church. The Church is the Kingdom. To live in the Kingdom of God is to live a life steeped in Holy Church. Second, Christ is talking about an inner, spiritual place: a state of being.
A traveller was once astonished when he visited Russia. Before the Bolshevik Revolution, Russian culture was saturated in Orthodox Christianity. The traveller marvelled at how religious the people were. They made the sign of the cross whenever passing by a church. They held regular processions of prayer and chanting through the streets. On every door was hung an icon of Christ or a saint. I felt the same sensation while living in Greece. Every street corner has a little sanctuary where people pray on their way to work. They greet each other with “Christ is Risen!” throughout the 40 days of Easter. Their whole year is scheduled around the holy seasons. In America today, our secular lives come first and we try to squeeze in a little religion. In Orthodoxy, religion comes first, and we try to let it sink into everything else.
What does it mean: “The Kingdom of God is in your midst”? It means that Kingdom has invaded everything. We begin with worship. Historical worship is majestic and meditative. It invites us to step out of the world of man and into the world of God. Hebrews explains:
“We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Hb. 12:1, 22-23).
We stand in the presence of God, his holy mother, and all his saints. Heaven is here. From worship, this Kingdom extends to our daily life. This why the Church gives us the sacred days, why we splash holy water in our homes, and why we meet together to break bread and feast. The Church is a lifestyle that floods our lives with meaning and beauty. It is a metronome to set the beat of our heart around Christ.
Christianity is radical. We cannot keep up with the Jones and keep up with Christ. The Christian lives in the court of the King. In Flanner O’Connor’s words, we must, “push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.”
The Kingdom is in your heart. Christ was particularly harsh against the Pharisees. In one of his most harsh diatribes, he says:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean” (Mt. 23:25-26).
You can imagine talking to someone today like that. It sounds a little bit like the mud slinging in the political climate. Yet, when Christ gets rough, he is like a surgeon who pushes the scalpel deep to get to the cancer. God is concerned with our hearts. “First clean the inside of the cup and plate, that the outside also may be clean.” The word, “inside” (ἐντὸς in Greek) is the same word used when Christ says: “The Kingdom of God is in your midst.” The Kingdom is inside you. It is in the core of the apple. Our job is to clean the inside, to let Christ sit in the throne of the heart.
"Commune with your own heart, and in your inner chamber, and be still" (Ps. 4:4).
How can Christ become King? It is only through a devotional life. All the sermons and all the religion is meaningless if they do not drive us to our knees. All our talk about Christian culture and a “kingdom life” is a waist of our time, if we are not filling our lives with prayer. We have to learn to stop time.
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom wrote a little book called, “Beginning to Pray.” Though its name is simple, it’s a book read by saints and bishops with fervor. We are all beginners in prayer after all. He wraps up the book with a word about time. How do we pray in such a rushed life? We need to find, he says, the crumbs of time.
“If we use crumbs of wasted time…If you think of the number of empty minutes in a day when we will be doing something because we are afraid of emptiness and of being alone with ourselves, you will realize that there are plenty of short periods which could belong both to us and to God at the same time.”
We can only pray when we have put everything aside and stand face-to-face, person-to-person, with God. How can we do that? By standing in the present, letting go of past and future, letting everything vanish for a moment, and simply resting in God. In this way, we can commune with our hearts, in our inner chamber, and be still. We can say truly, Christ is King!
“Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you?”
Today’s gospel is a challenge. Will you say, “Christ is King,” with your lips only or in your heart? Christ responds finally, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world” (Jn. 18:38). Christ must be King in our culture. His Church must flood into our life and color everything. Christ must be King in our heart, in the inside of the cup, in our willingness to live lives of devotion. Christ is King! Glorify Him!