From Peter’s First Letter:
In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NRSV) – November 25, 2012)
Today is the last Sunday after Pentecost called “the Feast of Christ the King.” A relatively new feast on the calendar of the church, it was instituted by a 20th Century pope and originally set in late October as a response to the Protestant celebration of “Reformation Sunday” on the Sunday closest to October 31, the anniversary of Luther’s posting on the Wittenburg chapel door. The latter, I would suppose, started with the Lutherans but has spread throughout American Protestantism; I know of Presbyterian, Reformed, UCC, and Methodist churches that mark it. I know of no Episcopal congregations that do so. Episcopalians did take to Christ the King, however, and since Paul VI moved it to the last Sunday of the Christian year, every congregation I’ve been a part of has celebrated it. With the adoption of the Revised Common Lectionary, it is now an official part of our tradition.
Today, my congregation will be celebrating it without me. My spouse and I have taken a break and, since Friday, have been staying in a retreat facility not that far away from our home geographically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually a very, very long distance separate this place from that. We spent yesterday indulging our hobby of “antiquing” – wandering aimlessly through several of the amazing collections of junk one finds in the abandoned supermarkets, retired barns, and former garages now called “antique malls.” There are several in the Amish Country of Ohio, where we are.
The Amish are an interesting people. They quietly and steadfastly maintain a traditional way life hundreds of years old, one dating back to their formation as a Protestant sect in German-speaking Switzerland. Eschewing automobiles, they drive boxy black buggies down the state highways and country roads. Claiming not to use electricity, they have gas lights or kerosene lanterns in their homes and businesses, except when they don’t – I admit to being befuddled by this; I can’t figure out when it is OK to use electricity and when it isn’t. And then there is the use of batteries by those who “have no electricity” (as one shopkeeper put it); batteries power buggy lights and sometimes business lighting (but “we have no electricity”). I don’t get it it, but that’s OK – that’s not what this meditation is about.
What makes the Amish most interesting is that they go about this odd, set-apart way of life “with gentleness and respect.” I nearly wrote above that they maintain their traditions “unobtrusively,” but that really wouldn’t have been accurate. They are obtrusive! Come upon a horse-drawn farm cart plodding along a 55-mph-speed-limit highway or a buggy on a 35-mph country lane, roads which are winding and hilly and have limited visibility, and (believe me) it’s an obtrusion! Often a deadly one for the Amish if the automobile driver doing so is not paying attention or has poor reactions.
In stores, the Amish men with their broad-brimmed hats, long beards, and plain rugged clothing, and the Amish ladies with their long skirts, dark sweaters, and hair done up in buns under starched linen caps, are very noticeable, whether they are service personnel or are themselves customers. In restaurants, which they rarely but occasionally patronize, their large families pausing to say grace in antiquated German before eating are a reminder that while they are sanctifying the Lord, we are not. That’s obtrusive . . . but oh so gentle and respectful.
That is the nature of the King whom we sanctify today on this special day of remembering his lordship. He gave vent to flashes of anger, of course, and there are plenty of hints throughout the Gospels that he was, rather often, frustrated and unhappy with this followers, but we mostly remember him as gentle and reverent. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” is a phrase I remember from a hymn we learned in my Methodist Sunday School days of long ago.
The Gospel lesson for today’s celebrations of the Holy Eucharist is from John: Pilate questioning Jesus before his crucifixion. Jesus, the epitome of gentleness and respect, answers Pilate calmly, or stands silently, when he could have taken complete control of the situation, called down the wrath of God, and established an earthly kingdom right then and there. Instead, he takes complete control of the situation in another way, the way of gentleness and peace.
I think that’s what I find most compelling and oddly attractive about the Amish. They are in complete control of their lives, as narrow and confined as they may seem to a modern outsider like myself. They go about their traditional ways in the midst of the madness around them, the speeding cars, the frantic shoppers, the hurried diners too busy to say grace; they don’t give in to modern pressures. They just keep plodding along like the horses pulling their carts and buggies, doing faithfully what they know they are called to do. They are a Protestant’s Protestants, children of the Reformation started when Martin Luther nailed those theses to the Wittenburg door, but more than any Solemnity declared by pope or any dictate of the lectionary, they stand testimony to the power of gentleness and respect, a potent reminder of Christ the King.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.