Sunday, April 1, 2012

The King Speaks

"Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words."  (Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi)

   Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord   B 

Fr. Stitt’s been with us long enough now 
for some of you to realize
that when he gets a notion in his head,
he can be quite persistent about it.
He’s often after me—for example—
about movies I have not seen…
…and since I don’t see very many, 
he’s got a lot to work with.
Recently, he’s been insisting 
I see one in particular: The King's Speech.
In fact, he’s been so vocal 
and persistent about it
that one of you felt the need 
to go out and buy me the DVD!
So we finally sat down to watch it 
last Sunday night…
and am I glad that we did.
Simply put, it’s brilliant.
I have no trouble at all understanding
why it won four Academy Awards…
…and why Fr. Stitt persisted.

The film tells the story of Prince Albert, the Duke of York,
who unexpectedly assumes the British throne in 1936
as King George VI.
The royal family has been rocked by scandal,
and the whole world, it seems, is swiftly marching toward war.
His people desperately need a monarch to inspire and rally them.
Trouble is, King George has a debilitating speech impediment.
Whether telling a bedtime story to his young daughters
or delivering a wartime address to his vast empire over the radio,
he stutters persistently and stammers quite painfully
in his effort to make himself understood.

It’s the story of a king who wants—who urgently needs
to communicate clearly with his people;
their future, their freedom, their very lives depend on it.

Don’t we witness something similar during this Holy Week?

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.
So writes Isaiah about the Suffering Servant:
a promised ruler who will bring vindication to God’s chosen people.
The prophet could have been describing any hoped-for king, really…
…but we believe God had a particular one in mind.

Throughout his ministry—
in the city of Jerusalem,
along the slopes and shores of Galilee—
we hear the words of Jesus the preacher…
...and he’s a good one.
His parables, his lessons, his sermons,
drew crowds in numbers as great as did his many miracles.
But the Son of God has a still more powerful way
to communicate with us.
He knows that actions speak louder than words,
and no action in all of human history speaks louder
than innocent blood being shed for sinners,
than one obediently accepting death—
death on a cross.
By his triumphal entry amid waving palm branches,
Jesus reveals that he is, indeed, a king…
…he’s just not the kind of king that we’re used to.
Crowned not with gold and jewels 
but with thorns,
Christ is a king who will win victory through suffering—
not by the power of his army, 
but by the power of his love.

The Church, as Christ’s Body and Christ’s Bride,
does much the same thing,
and does so in a particular way during Holy Week.
It would be easy enough for us to merely read through
the text of the Lord’s Passion,
whether on our own in the pages of our Bibles
or assembled as it’s proclaimed from a pulpit—like we do today.
But we, too, know that actions speak louder than words.
So we not only tell the tale of our King’s Last Supper;
on Holy Thursday we will gather in memory of him,
breaking the bread of our Passover feast—
the sublime Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
We do not simply repeat the story of how our King
accepted the wood of a cross as his humble throne;
on Good Friday we will come together to do as he did,
bowing down before it and embracing the cross as our own.
And we do more than re-read our King’s remarkable promise
to rebuild the temple in just three days’ time;
on Holy Saturday, we will keep vigil in the dark of night
knowing that Christ himself is the true temple,
and that he will rise again as surely as the sun at dawn.

Of course, actions speak louder than words
not only during these most sacred of days,
but all throughout the year—
not only in our religious rituals, but in our daily duties.
And this living gospel cannot be convincing or consistent
unless we bring our lives into the liturgy,
and the liturgy into our lives.
Is that not what these forty days of Lent have been all about?

Despite the many similarities,
there is an essential difference between Jesus Christ in his Passion
and George VI as portrayed in film—
that is, other than the most obvious difference
that only one of them is the Son of God!
Both are kings who desperately want—who urgently need—
to get through to their people;
both know that the stakes are extraordinarily high.
But Christ has no speech impediment;
he does not stutter nor stammer;
his words and his actions speak quite clearly.
If there’s any failure to understand this King,
it’s because his people haven’t made themselves available
to receive the message or repeat it faithfully.

This Holy Week, find the time—make the time—
to hear our eternal King’s most passionate speech.
Prepare yourself to watch and to listen,
to be touched and changed by what you see and hear.
There’s something your King wishes to say to you;
and it’s worthy of your full attention,
for your future, your freedom,
your very life—here and hereafter—
depend completely upon it.

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