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Christ the King
November 26, 2023

Watch this homily! (Begins at 40:08)

     The Christ pictured on the cover of today’s bulletin (a close up from one of the bronze ceremonial doors) hardly looks like a king as he stands there, bound and vulnerable and crowned with thorns. If this is a king, it is a king like no other. And so is the Christ on the beautiful processional crucifix up at the altar. He, too, defies any notion of kingship.

     The same can be said of the Christ of those great stained-glass windows of the east apse. He is represented six times in those windows, but in none of them does he look anything like a king. Take time to give them a careful look sometime if you haven’t already. They are more than just colorful decorations. I think of them as gospels in glass - meant to be read, meant to be studied, meant to be lived!

     Those windows have an interesting history. Nearly thirty years ago, when we were renovating the Cathedral, a noted stained-glass artist by the name of Hans von Stockhausen came all the way from Germany to create those windows. At the time, they were about half as long as they are now and they were mostly hidden behind an elaborate altarpiece from the 1950’s.  Von Stockhausen spent a week here, looking around the cathedral and taking in the life of the cathedral. At the end of the week he told me: “I know what we should do to complete those windows.  We should tell the parable of the Last Judgment from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.

     You know the parable.  You just heard it in today’s gospel.  “…Come, you blessed of my Father.  Inherit the kingdom…because I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, imprisoned and you visited me, naked and you clothed me.” A powerful parable, to be sure, but I wondered why the artist was so certain that it was that particular story that should be told in the new stained-glass. His answer was quick in coming.  “I have sat in this cathedral for a week,” he told me, “and I have walked around these grounds, and what I have seen here day after day is people doing those very things – feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, welcoming the stranger.”

     I was deeply moved. In only a few days, he had discovered the heartbeat of St. James Cathedral! He had discovered the holiness of this place. He had discovered you!

     This is the feast of Christ the King. Did it seem a little strange to hear that gospel passage about feeding the poor and clothing the naked? Why not something a little more grand, more regal? And the answer is that the king is not who we might think. The king was betrayed by a trusted friend, taken prisoner, mocked and scourged and nailed to a cross. The king was despised by almost everyone – weak, silent, defenseless.  The king was a laughingstock. And it’s no different now. The king, the Christ, is still a laughingstock, still an object of scorn. Why? Because he doesn’t look like a king and he doesn’t act like a king.

     The king, the Christ, as we heard in the parable, is poor and hungry and thirsty and naked and in prison and all alone.  The king, the Christ, is, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “the Least, the Lost, and the Last” – the very ones Jesus identifies himself with in that parable when he says, “For as often as you did it for one of these, the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it for me.” And we are to do the same as Jesus did: not just reach out to them in loving service (certainly that) but to actually identify with them, to see ourselves as related to them - as brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus cared far more about his kinship with them than he ever did about kingship, so should we.

     My friends in Christ, as you well know, this isn’t my gospel, nor is it some left-wing socialist manifesto. It is the Christian gospel, the only gospel we have.

     When you have a chance, I hope you will take time to study those glorious windows in the east apse inspired by today’s gospel, inspired by you. Study them, you must: it’s not enough just to glance at them and see their beautiful colors. But if you do study them, you will see the king there, the Christ.  You will see him betrayed in the garden, crowned with thorns, thirsting from the cross, and so much more. And don’t stop there. Read the very words from today’s gospel etched into those windows above and below each of the representations of Christ: “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was hungry and you did not give me food…thirsty and you gave me drink; thirsty and you did not give me drink,” and on and on. Read those words and then ask the questions the artist hoped you would ask when you saw those windows: where is the hungry Christ now? Where is the thirsty Christ now? Where is the lonely and abandoned Christ now?

     My friends, as you know, he is no longer in Gethsemane; he is no longer climbing the lonely road to Calvary. He is here. In disguise. Hidden, yet in our midst. This is where we must look for him; this is where will find him!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
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