At the back of the house where we stayed on our break runs a little river. It gurgles and gargles alongside large native trees, over the remnants of such trees laying across it and over little rocky rapids as it makes it way down to the meeting of waters, a place where, as the name suggests it reaches other little rivers.
I went for a walk in the bush behind this spot and wandered along beside another of these little streams that seemed to me to giggle and laugh its way down hill over trees and rocks, alongside little eddy’s which were havens for those who didn’t want the wild ride the middle of the stream offered.
Beside both of these creeks were banks inhabited by a multitude of life, animate and inanimate. Multi hues of greens, browns, yellows etc covered the banks hiding a variety of life and activity only partially glimpsed by the naked eye.
We drove through the forests above Marysville to marvel at the savagery of nature and the capacity it has for returning to continue the search for wholeness and fulfilment. The sense of interconnectedness and relationship as different species worked together to bring back life under the stately skeletons of eucalypts who perished in the fires was awe inspiring.
Charles Darwin concluded his last chapter of his ground breaking book with the following:
“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. ……….. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.“
Darwin encapsulates for us a series of ideas relevant to our celebration of the reign of Christ on this the Feast of Christ the King. In the last few months and longer we have experienced the upsurge of isolationism, populism and blame sharing most of us have not previously experienced. It seems that many of the givens in our society have been overturned and replaced by ideologies and movements determined to wreak havoc on our sense and sensibilities. The rise of the right in Turkey, Brexit, the rise of the right and one nation here, the success of Donald Trump and the possibility of the extreme right exerting power in Europe alongside the growing influence of China and the continuing power of Russia all seem determined to change how the world has been for most of our lifetime.
In the midst of this how do we make sense of the reign of Christ? What does it look like in a world in continuous flux? Who or what is in charge? How do we discern Christ the King in this seemingly unmanageable mess?
In our reading Luke has Jesus in conversation with another on the cross which goes like this:
“Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
There are three things in this exchange in the midst of Luke’s passion story I think is worth remembering, not only for our world but for the church and on this day of our AGM, our parish – wholeness, relational and love.
These three words could be used to sum up both the Gospel of Jesus and the thrust of Darwin’s work. Creation is, through the evolutionary process, working towards relational wholeness empowered by love. It is the reason why we are to always be hopeful about the future, the future of the parish, the church and the world. The turmoil we see is the result of the process into wholeness, the ultimate end of evolution and faith. It is the result of being in relation with others and the Other as we work to fulfil our calling to abundant flourishing in the natural and spiritual worlds. It is not the end.
The conversation between Jesus and his companion is about relationships – you will be with me – the word with describes the reign of Christ. It is about with-ness not separate-ness. Christ is not a king separate from the agony of the process to wholeness. And by association God is not a distant God who arbitrarily chooses when to intervene, on who’s behalf to intervene and for what cause to intervene.
Much that was distasteful was said during the recent US election, but the moments which disturbed me most were when both candidates ended their speeches, at various times, with God Bless You or God Bless America. How dare they co-opt God into their ideologically inspired campaigns? How dare they think that God is theirs to invoke in such away?
Christ is with us, right in the very middle of it to such an extent that his desire for wholeness for all takes him into the deepest with-ness or relationship possible – death on a cross – the ultimate in suffering and in sharing the suffering of others. It was the worst of death for those who challenged the way of the powerful and fearful and it is all the evidence we need for the with-ness of Christ, and by definition, the with-ness of God.
Wholeness is the process of creation. We are engaged as human beings in the ever-forward process of wholeness and fulfilment. We are deemed to be the pinnacle of created beings, but like all created beings we are not finished yet. There is more to come to create wholeness in capacity, capabilities, knowledge, wisdom and co-operation with all that is. It is the direction of faith taking us toward the reign (kingdom) of God. It will be complete when we live relationally in justice, respect and compassion. It will be that time when all is complete and all live in completeness. It will be the fulfilment of love.
Love is the spark of creation and the energy that empowers the process towards fulfilment. All creation, humans included, are imbued with the creative spirit of Christ and it is the spirit, this love, this essence of God, who is responsible for empowering the urge toward relational wholeness – the reign of Christ. Love is not an emotion. Love is not a concept. Love is not just a descriptive word. Love is a verb and it is the a verb or action word at the centre of all that is. Without love, without the creative spirit who is God and love, there can be no hopefulness, no striving for existence and wholeness.
These three words – relational wholeness empowered by love – describe the reign of Christ in the world. It is the ongoing with-ness of Christ at the darkest and most difficult moments and also at those moments of great joy. They are to be our motto for how we live individually, in community and in our church. If we live these three words well we will attract others to see and participate and we will share with others and ourselves the reign of Christ here and now.
These three words must be at the centre of all that we do if we are to survive, grow and flourish, not for ourselves, our memories or our hopes, but to usher in the reign of Christ now and forever. Amen.