31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
November 22, 2020
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
A pandemic, a census, a presidential election, racial injustice protests, and the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. 2020 had its fair share of memorable events. And it’s also the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims arriving in what we now call Massachusetts.
Every year, we remember the Mayflower Pilgrims and their journey across the ocean to Plymouth Rock. We decorate our homes with turkeys and little pilgrim figurines. Elementary students make paper Pilgrim hats. My home church in Glastonbury, CT has traditionally recreated a Pilgrim worship service – complete with the ushers dressed in costume and the tithing man walking around to wake anyone who might dare drowse during the sermon.
At that first Thanksgiving feast, the Pilgrims gathered to thank God for many reasons. They gathered to thank God for guiding them and providing for them in this new land, for helping them to not only survive but also thrive in this new world, and the Pilgrims also gathered to give thanks for the members of the First Nation, the native peoples who had made that all possible. The Pilgrims gathered in gratitude with and for those native peoples who had gone beyond welcome, gone beyond kindness, to show the Pilgrims compassion, the same compassion Jesus teaches his followers to have for each person in need.
We often use kindness and compassion as synonyms however they don’t mean exactly the same thing. Kind-ness, the state of being kind, comes from a place of affection. We act in ways that are kind when we are feeling friendly.
Compassion comes from two words. “Com” which means “with” or “together” and the word “passion” which comes from Christ’s passion, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross out of love for all humankind. When put together, compassion means not only to have sympathy for someone else’s suffering, it means to be with them in their hardship.
And that is what the First Nation peoples did. They did not know who these Mayflower Pilgrims were. They did not know what their purpose was. And yet, the First Nation peoples did not stand at a distance from these newcomers, these strangers to their land.
The native peoples went beyond welcome and handing the Pilgrims some food for a day. The native peoples worked with, toiled beside, and were with the Mayflower Pilgrims in their hardships. The native peoples had compassion on them. And for the blessings of that compassion, the Pilgrims gathered to give thanks at that first Thanksgiving feast.
What a blessing compassion is. It heals. It comforts. It lifts our spirits and soothes our weary hearts.
As your heart is feeling weary after being tossed around on the ocean of pandemic for 8 months, as your heart is wondering and perhaps a bit afraid of this strange and inhospitable landscape we are finding ourselves in, I invite you to remember a time when someone blessed you with compassion, to remember who has walked with you and shared in your hardship, helping to bring you through?
As important as it is to give thanks for still having jobs, for still having food and homes and health this Thanksgiving, it is also important to give thanks for those who have shown us compassion, for those who have fed and clothed us physically, spiritually, and emotionally, for those who have visited us when we were in the prison of despair, for those who have cared for our souls when they were sad and feeling hopeless.
On this Thanksgiving Sunday, as those from the Congregationalist tradition of the United Church of Christ, our focus is usually on the Pilgrims, our ancestors in the faith; however this Sunday in many Christian traditions is called Christ the King Sunday. It always occurs on the Sunday right before Advent, and as you might guess, Christ the King Sunday is a day to celebrate that Jesus is king, the ruler of all creation.
This language can feel foreign and strange because we don’t have a king. We don’t live in a kingdom. Imaging Christ as king can lead us to thinking either of a benevolent king sitting in his throne room granting requests to his peasants or worse, of Henry the 8th and all those poor wives.
When I think of Christ as king, though, I think of a story a colleague in ministry shared years ago. She was speaking about her Christian faith journey and told about a time when a close friend invited her to imagine her heart as a throne and to welcome Jesus to sit on that throne, at the center of her life.
This image has stuck with me. Christ the king isn’t like any earthly king or leader, past, present or future. Christ doesn’t sit distant from me on some ornate throne, granting decrees. He sits on the throne of my heart, at the center of my life. He is with me – together with us – in our sorrow, in our pain, in our fear, in our exhaustion. Just as he was willing to suffer on the cross, Christ is willing to suffer with us through the darkness of the unknown, offering us the blessing of compassion.
When Paul writes about “the glorious way of life [Christ] has for his followers”, Paul isn’t writing about glory in the way the world thinks about glory. The glorious way of life Christ has for his followers is not about riches or power or even abundance. It means sharing the blessing of compassion. The glorious way of life, the glorious way of Christ means being willing to feed someone and being willing to enter into their life’s circumstances, wondering how it feels to be hungry, wondering how they ended up food insecure, and then working to end food insecurity.
In Christ’s kingdom, it is compassion that reigns. Compassion that rules. In Christ’s kingdom, we are called to know God, to know God’s love and to extend that unconditional love and compassion to those who are lonely, to those who are imprisoned, physically imprisoned as well as imprisoned by addiction, depression, or PTSD, to extend compassion to those who are struggling and unable to take care of life’s basic needs.
Just as we have each been blessed with compassion, we are called to offer to others compassion – because each person is a beloved child of God and might even be the Messiah, Christ come again.
When the Mayflower Pilgrims came to this new world, they were seeking God’s kingdom. They were looking for a place to live as Christ called them, a place where Christ and Christ alone would reign. However in 1620, when they arrived and took their first steps on this land, they quickly retreated back to the Mayflower because this new place was so scary, so foreign, so desolate and unknown – and then, they discovered that this new world was also a place of compassion. They discovered that because Christ is king, the ruler of all creation, Jesus was already there, and that God’s love, Christ’s compassion lives in the heart of every soul.
As we gather for Thanksgiving feasts this year, they will not look like we expected. They will not look like they have in years past. There is much to grieve – the family who cannot travel to be with us, the loved ones who have passed on to heaven, even that there will be no 400th anniversary celebration of the Mayflower Pilgrims.
A lot of things will be different this year however what has not changed, what will never change is that Jesus sits on the throne of our hearts, at the center of our lives, and in the same way Jesus is together with us in our suffering, Jesus also invites us to let compassion rule, let compassion reign – in our hearts, in our lives, and in our world.