The other day I had a chance to go swimming in an indoor pool with my kids. Something we haven’t done for quite awhile. It took a little getting used to with the lifeguards wearing masks meanwhile everyone in the pool was not. But it wasn’t overly busy. And the kids got to jump off the diving boards. And then the big surprise came when they announced the water slide would be opening. My kids were near the front of the lineup and then I saw all the kids walk back down the stairs. Apparently another kid had peed on the water slide and so they had to shut it down for twenty minutes until the filter and chemicals could cycle through. Sure enough twenty minutes later the water slide was back up and running. I even went down it. I didn’t expect much from a water slide at a public pool but it was surprisingly fast, with a big splash the end. Most importantly it was a controlled experience. Only one person could go down the water slide at a time. The lifeguard checked the person had exited the splash pad below before letting the next person go.
Reign of Christ Sunday is a time to remember our baptism. To remember the same waters that give life and joy are at other times unpredictable and destructive. Unfortunately we’ve seen this up close throughout BC this past week. An atmospheric river dumped up to a foot of rain in some parts of the province. We’ve seen the results of mudslides, flooding, and massive highways closures. Some of us have friends and family directly impacted. Hundreds were trapped along a stretch of highway near needing airlifted by the military. Others had animals, farms, and homes washed away. The entire city of Merritt was evacuated. The former Sumas Lake, having been dredged in the 1920’s returned to its original lake form. It is staggering to think of the level of destruction from a couple days of intense rain. And there is still more rain or snow in the forecast in some parts. Cleanup will take an indefinite period of time. Some people with need to discern whether rebuilding on a flood plain makes sense. It is sad to think of the extent of damage and lives impacted, although we are heartened by the rescue efforts underway. One question that remains after the waters recede and people find adequate safety, will be the question of leadership. What does it mean to be a leader now that we’re in the midst of a changing climate and increasingly fierce storms?
Jesus represents different kind of power
In our gospel reading for Reign of Christ Sunday, we meet Jesus who isn’t afraid to speak directly to leaders. We hear Jesus having a rather pointed conversation with Pontius Pilate, who has the power to execute Jesus or have him released. Samuel Cruz, professor at Union Theological Seminary, wonders whether we often miss the point of Reign of Christ Sunday. Too often as churches that are predominantly white, we miss the power dynamics at play here between Pilate and Jesus. Too often we see Jesus as simply winning against Pilate, revealing a heavenly kingdom that Jesus represents is more powerful than an earthly kingdom. But it’s not that simple. For Samuel Cruz, Jesus’ response is something racialized people deal with all the time, being dismissed by a leader representing the dominant group. Looking at the exchange Pilate is dismissive of Jesus. Pilate doesn’t really care about the truth of what happened. Instead Pilate tries baiting Jesus with questions like, “Are you the king of the Jews?” There are a lot of assumptions packed into this question. Pilate is giving voice to the rumours spread by corrupt leaders. Pilate doesn’t say as much but he’s asking Jesus to explain himself before he winds up executed by the state. Rather than give in to Pilate’s bully tactics, Jesus remains aloof. He Challenges Pilate and calls him out. “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
What we are witnessing in this exchange is a power struggle, but not the kind we think of when we imagine two kings fighting. Jesus is not interested in resorting to the power plays of Pilate. There will be no lightning bolts from heaven to strike down Pilate for his injustice. Instead Jesus defies worldly authority without playing the game of might makes right. And that’s a hard part of the gospel. On the face of it, it looks like Jesus is losing. He doesn’t defeat Pilate, but rather Pilate sentences him to death to be crucified.
Jesus recognizes that real power comes from another way of being in the world. Real power comes through love of neighbour, serving others in humility. Real power comes through giving up control so that all people and all creation might flourish.
Thinking about our response to the recent storms and climate crisis, how are we called to lead with a spirit of humility? How do we embody Jesus’ reign of serving neighbour as opposed to Pilate’s winning through power? We’ve heard from Indigenous elders how Sumas Lake was a flourishing body of water and a prized fishing and hunting ground. The decision to drain the lake and wetlands robbed Indigenous people of this resource and the last hundred years led up to this week’s disaster. And it’s a conundrum because now hundreds of settlers have built homes and farms on a former lake bed and so we’re wrestling with spending billions of dollars to continue reclaiming this land.
Meanwhile the Wet’suwet’en people have been demanding their sovereignty be recognized and pause construction of a natural gas pipeline. Instead during the middle of the province’s worst climate disaster, when we need all hands on deck, the province sent the RCMP to Smithers and New Hazelton to lead a series of raids on the Wet’suwet’en people. This resulted in sending several Indigenous leaders and journalists to jail this weekend. Even when people’s lives, highways, and homes are crumbling and in peril, we as a province continue choosing a path of control and power. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can’t wear orange shirts one day and send police with automatic weapons to threaten Indigenous neighbours the next day. We are out of sync with our collective commitment towards reconciliation. Our collective body is not in a state of good health. Jesus is pointing us towards a gentler form of power, rooted in love.
Jesus turns us towards love. God knows we’re all hurting. We can’t shake this pandemic and we’re already too tired responding to Covid. We don’t need these storms and destruction besides. And so we turn to love and find ways to support one another. Ways we can lift one another up because that is Jesus’ reign. Jesus’ kind of kingship is turning power upside down, snubbing the Pilates so that love might win.
We need to offer one another relief. A chance to take a nap, to drink some water, to get some exercise, to do something life-giving, to spend time with friends and family.
As a church we are uniquely positioned to build community rooted in love. In the face of calamity to build communities of resilience. We’ll all be the better for it.
One thing we can do is check in on Black friends following the Kyle Ritterhouse verdict, declaring him not guilty after shooting people point blank with an assault rifle. Meanwhile Trayvon Martin, who was also 17, was shot on sight while playing with a toy gun.
We can check in with trans friends on the Trans Day of Remembrance weekend, remembering how trans folks are increasingly at risk of violence.
We can check in with each other and remember our baptism, that we are loved by God.
And who knows, maybe we’ll ride a waterslide, and enjoy a moment of rest and joy that God desires for us. Amen.