What Holds Us Together?
What are the children doing?
I brought with me today some kinds of connectors that hold things together. How would I use these things to hold something together?
Clear tape: for connecting paper, maybe like wrapping a present with colorful paper
Rainbow tape: for decorating something
Blue painter’s tape: for sticking something to a wall
Paperclips: for holding papers together
Bandages: for holding skin together, if skin breaks
And these things are good for putting things together. But I want you to think of something that holds your body together. You need it to live, to stay alive. It’s in every cell of your body. If you run out of it, you can’t stay alive. And it’s the same thing that plants need to stay alive. That’s WATER.
We have a bowl of it right over here, in the middle of the sanctuary! What’s this for? The Sacrament of Holy Baptism—this is where we are washed clean by God, where we are welcomed into community. Today Lea will be baptized, and we’ll drop water on her head and we will remember God’s promises, and she will be claimed as a child of God forever.
And do you know our other Sacrament? Holy Communion—what is it? Bread and wine or grape juice—and where do those things come from? Wheat and grapes, which both need water so they can grow! So water is represented in our Sacraments.
Maybe water is really the thing that holds all creation together—water in our bodies, water outside our bodies to wash us clean, water in the plants, water in the air (sometimes this is rain or snow), water in the rivers and lakes. Water is how God takes care of all creation, in everything.
A long time ago someone wrote a letter to some friends to encourage them in their faith, and that person talked about Jesus, who is powerful and in charge of everything and Jesus is the beginning and the end, and one interesting thing they said: in Jesus, all things hold together. Jesus is holding together all of creation, maybe like the water that connects all of us with creation, keeping us alive.
You can touch this water with your fingertips, and trace the sign of the cross on your forehead—this is what reminds you that you are baptized and you are sealed with the cross of Christ. I’m also going to give you a tool to use—dip this cotton swab into the water and take it with you. And there’s a picture with a drop of water and a cross, and you can use your cotton swab to paint on top of the blue colors and you’ll see how the water changes the picture!
You can take this with you back to your seats, and you can return to this water anytime you want to remember that you are a child of God.
Let us pray: Thank you, God, for Jesus Christ who holds us together. Thank you for the water in all of creation, and help us to notice all the places where water makes a difference in our lives. Make us caretakers of your creation. Amen.
When you think of something powerful, you probably don’t think of water. The properties of water might look weak—it needs a container, if you tip over the baptismal font, the water will go all over the floor, which would then become a hazard because people could slip and fall. Hmm, maybe water is kinda powerful.
Or imagine a river flowing, calmly trickling over rocks, but also smoothing the stones along the way, and sometimes after a big rain the water becomes a flood and that river carves a new space in the landscape. Maybe water is powerful.
Imagine a raging wildfire. Or a faucet that’s turned all the way on but nothing comes out. Imagine dirt on your shoes that can’t just be wiped away. Imagine the thirstiest you have ever felt, that headache of dehydration.
Water is powerful, but it’s everywhere, so it’s easy to take water for granted. Which sounds to me kinda like Jesus, in whom all things hold together.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, which sounds like a time for a military parade of regal imagery, in the manner that kings or queens or presidents or dictators would show off their power. But what we’re reading from Scripture is not how thoroughly Jesus can destroy his enemies.
Instead, we’re reading the crucifixion story—how the king we follow is the one who was executed as a criminal, who gave up his life, who had the power to do anything and who chose this brutal death anyway. This is the same Jesus we have been hearing from over the past few weeks, telling his followers to expect the worst, that terrible things will happen and those who hold fast to their faith in God will be tortured and imprisoned and even killed for that faith.
But Jesus isn’t the kind of leader who’s telling people, you go ahead and give up your life to keep me safe on my throne. Instead Jesus leads the way into death, that very most human of experiences. Jesus will not send his followers into someplace he won’t go.
What does this tell us about God? What does this tell us about ourselves, as followers? These are the things we consider on Christ the King Sunday—the nature of power, the nature of divinity, the nature of humanity and God’s connection with humanity.
You’d think that followers of Jesus Christ, following this self-sacrificial example of Jesus, would themselves be self-sacrificial, that we would recognize the incredible power that Jesus demonstrates from the cross, where he is dying. Not only does he not annihilate his enemies, he meets their brutality with love. Wouldn’t you think Christians would be the ones to live into that world-changing love?
And yet that has not exactly been the theme of Christian history. Christians, throughout history, have come to some pretty wild conclusions about how to exercise power. We don’t have time right now to go into all of that, but you can probably think of a few examples of when Christians were extremely wrong. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the theft of lands and peoples of the Americas, the enslavement of Africans—we could really go on and on.
But the history I want to focus on today is the history of this festival itself—do you know why we have Christ the King Sunday, or Reign of Christ Sunday? This is not an ancient festival; it was started in 1925, so it isn’t even yet one hundred years old, which makes it practically an innovation. And whose idea was this? Pope Pius XI (the eleventh), the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, who had witnessed the first world war and its destruction and wanted a way to assert the universal power of Jesus Christ in the face of nationalism and secularism.
And, funny story, this festival was first held at the end of October, which is…when Lutherans would be celebrating Reformation Sunday. Huh. Not until almost fifty years later, after Vatican II, would Pope Paul VI (the sixth) move the festival to the last Sunday of the liturgical year, which would fall sometime in November instead.
So this Christ the King festival could be a celebration of Christian unity. Or it could be a way to center ourselves within the sacrificial love of God in Jesus Christ, remembering the primacy of our identity as children of God before we are citizens of any particular country or defenders of any other ideology. Or it could be a way to remember that, despite the decorations and radio station format shifts and retail sales—it’s not Christmas yet, and actually let’s give some thought to the living Christ.
Does our world really need more images of military power or political power, when we still struggle to clean up the ecological messes left behind by previous generations? Do we need the assurance that God can obliterate our enemies? Or do we need the image of the healing Christ, the God who meets us here in our humanity, subject to the same pain and joy and life and death as we all will experience? Do we need a God of power-over, or the God of power-with?
It’s in the story we tell of the God we worship: Jesus telling the criminal executed beside him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” It’s not as much a statement about afterlife as it is a promise of God’s presence—“you will be with me.” This God is not about dividing enemies so they can be conquered; this God has a different framework entirely: unite and empower.
In Christ, all things hold together. It doesn’t make sense as a political strategy, and it doesn’t look like power in the ways we tend to fear and respect power. But this unity has a connecting power and a healing power that gives rise to a different understanding entirely, and that is resurrection power.
What other king or president or dictator or prime minister or even pope can even touch eternity?
And for us, it’s right there in the storied waters of baptism—eternal life and the promises of God, the presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, the beginning and the end, in Christ all things hold together.
Amen and amen, forevermore.