On Kings, Saints, and Presidents

As we approach our national election it is appropriate that we who follow the Church Year find ourselves celebrating the Feast of Christ the King today, All Saints’ Day on Thursday, and finally All Souls’ on Friday.  Further ahead, we look forward to the “real” holiday season, in America one bracketed by Thanksgiving and Christmas.

On Wednesday this week we pretend to be someone else, as we don costumes on Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Saints Day. As Christianity took root in the West, the Church transformed druidical and other pagan celebrations into Christian ones. Just so, it is thought that the end of summer was observed on October 31, a long dark night in which it was believed the spirits of the dead roamed the earth. Villagers lit bonfires to frighten the ghosts away or left food out to pacify them. “Trick-or-treating” probably evolved from the poor begging from house to house, lighting the way with a candle in a hollow pumpkin. The Church created All Saints Day to drive away these fears with the love of God witnessed in the saints. It was and is a day of hallowing, making holy, these men and women who taught us how to live, alight with the love of God.

We all need to look up to someone, to admire, to emulate. Every culture has their saints of sorts – those who inspire, who set an example, who chart the course. Sports, movie stars, rock stars, artists, leaders, builders, become role models, both good and bad. We call them stars because they rise above us, bright and twinkling in the dark of night. They light our way or at least the circuitry of our minds. Some stars are more obvious than others, some bright, some dim. Some sneak inside our souls through advertising and subtle fashions, harmless at first, dangerous later. We all want saints in our lives. We all want kings.

In our country we do not have a king because we have seen bad kings. We do not have noblemen. We do not have lords and ladies, barons and baronesses, princes and princesses. We make up for monarchy and aristocracy by creating our own sort of kings, hopefully a meritocracy – our congressmen, our judges, our presidents, vice-presidents, military leaders. In this way we raise our own royalty onto pedestals so that we can see them better, so that we can emulate them. We want to tell our sons and daughters, you can be President, you can be great, if you act like this man.

I looked up noble, which comes from the same root as knowledge. To be noble, to act nobly, is to have knowledge as to what is right and what is wrong.

But where does that knowledge come from? Where does nobility or kingship come from?

God’s People of Israel had no king for many generations, from Abraham to Moses to Samuel. But after a series of judges, they demanded a king. Others had kings – they wanted a king too. God gave them Saul, and Samuel, God’s prophet, anointed Saul with God’s wisdom to do right. From that time, Western kings have been anointed by the Church in some fashion, an admission of their dependence on God’s authority.

Of course, King Saul, being a descendant of Adam, didn’t always do right, and all kings and those in authority can never be perfect, never live up to God’s law. The Old Testament is largely the story of this doing right, then doing wrong, of listening to God, then not listening, of obeying, then not obeying, with resulting blessings and curses.

So finally when God became incarnate, took flesh upon him, a true star shone over a true king come to earth in Bethlehem. Here was a king who would be perfect, who would be an absolute standard of right and wrong, who would embody ultimate love and its defining sacrifice, one who would guide, defend, heal. One who, through the Cross, would give life eternal to the children of Adam and Eve. Here was the Christ, the King, the anointed one, the long awaited messiah. And as king, he would demand obedience to his law of love.

Rightful and saintly kings are gladly obeyed. The feudal contract in old Europe was (and I simplify with abandon) protection in battle (knights, lords, kings) in exchange for a portion of the bounty pulled from the earth (serfs). Lords acted as judges as well, keeping the peace, and serfs were expected to obey the laws of the kingdom.

Just so, we the people create and recreate a government of laws to be obeyed, and in exchange for our obedience, the government protects us from invasion and ensures the peace at home. But because the government is made up of sons and daughters of Adam, leaders and laws, like kings, will never be perfect. How then are we to choose those leaders who will make those laws?

Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian morality, looking to the authority of God to set the course. But today, as we drift from our founding, we drift from our authorities as well. We drift from God; we drift from Christ the King. We have become, in many ways, becalmed, waiting for the next wave to engulf, the next riot to destroy, the next massacre to horrify, the next nine/eleven or Benghazi to be etched on our national memory.

As we approach November 6 and the election of our President, we must ask the question, even in this democracy, which candidate is the more noble? More kingly? Who has the greater knowledge of right and wrong? Who, in the end, has the character to lead us, to articulate the course for us, to pull together the threads of history into the present moment of choices? Who has the experience that ratifies that knowledge, that directs judgment? Like the days of lords and serfs, who can protect us in battle? Who can protect us in our towns, in our public squares, theaters, offices, homes?  Who can protect our individual freedoms to life, liberty, worship, and the pursuit of happiness?

We the People will gladly support such a man, a kingly and noble-man, perhaps even a saint. We will gladly point to such a man when he strides onto the dais and we say to our children, “That’s our President. A great man. Be like him, be noble-knowing. Be wise and learn to make the right choices. Be strong. Be brave. Be kind, loving, sacrificial.”

We will gladly anoint such a man. Indeed, we long to.

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