Purple Rain, Purple Reign
By Dr. Jeffrey K. London
In a neighborhood in Baghdad, a child plays on the sidewalk outside of his home when a military convoy drives by. Suddenly a truck explodes. Gunfire breaks out. The child is hit. His body, battered and bleeding, lies on the sidewalk. His mother cries for help. Soldiers come – Iraqis, Americans – it doesn’t matter to her, she simply wants someone, anyone, to help her child. A soldier picks the child up and carries him toward a waiting ambulance. The sky turns purple, the clouds open up and it rains, and it rains, and it rains.
The sound of “Hark! The Herald Angel Sings” flows almost unnoticeably from a speaker in the hallway of the chemo-floor in the hospital. You can tell the veterans from the novices. The veterans walk around in their bathrobes, their IV drips on wheels, a look of fierce determination in their eyes. The novices aren’t there yet. They still have that “startled deer in the headlights” look. A woman sits by herself off in the corner, gazing out the window, an empty nondescript look on her face. A young man comes through the door, looks around, spots her, and moves with haste in her direction. He goes down on one knee and buries his head in her lap. She gently runs her hands through his hair as a tear streams down her cheek. She looks out the window and sees the sky has turned purple — the clouds open up and it rains, and rains, and rains.
The lawyer’s office is decorated in green and red; a giant wreath is attached to the front door. They come separately and don’t even make eye contact as they sit in the lounge area. The lawyer calls them into her office. She talks and explains, but they don’t really hear her. They sign the papers and it is finished. He’ll get the kids this Christmas, she’ll get them next year. They leave without ever having said a word. The sun is setting, the sky has turned purple, the clouds open up and it rains, and rains, and rains.
The truth of life is that no one escapes living. And living involves hardship and pain as much as it does joy and gladness. It rains and storms just as mightily on the good as it does the bad. The truth of life is that God lifts no one above the turmoil and suffering, not even his Son. We’re all dropped in the middle of it.
The redemption that is ours in Jesus Christ is not some sort of luxury cruise through the calm waters of the Sea of Pain-Be-Gone. God’s plan has never been to insulate His people from the rain that falls, but to prepare us for the storms that come our way.
There’s a reason that purple is the liturgical color for both Advent and Lent. The purple of Advent reminds us that the baby born in the manger was born a King. Purple is the color of royalty. The purple of Lent reminds us that the child born a King grew to be an adult with a divinely-human destiny upon the throne of the Cross.
Purple, therefore, is both a royally joyful color while at the same time royally melancholy. But in both cases, purple reminds us that our King still reigns, now and forever. We are covered in his purple reign; the whole of the world is covered in his purple reign.
Here and now, in Advent, we are called to look forward to the day of our King’s promised return, a day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. (Philippians 2:10-11) But this day of return comes with a degree of foreboding. The domesticated view of Advent focuses only on the impending birth of the baby King Jesus. But Advent also has this wild untamed side that is connected to King Jesus’ second advent.
In our gospel lesson Jesus tells us that it’s all adding up to something. All the rain that falls from the purple sky on the good, the bad, and the indifferent — it’s all adding up to something. All of the stuff in the world that looks so meaningless, so bereft of purpose, all the pain and suffering, all the wars and disasters, all the cancer and AIDs, all the hopes and fears of all the years — are all pointing toward something.
Jesus uses the language of metaphor and poetry to connect with the ineffable parts of our lives, those tough places and difficult times that defy articulation. Jesus’ words are not the stuff of science or history, but are instead the stuff of divine promise. The promise is that God is present and acting within human history, within the good, the bad, and the ugly, to bring about a victorious conclusion; the result of which will be a new beginning, a new creation where God himself will wipe away every tear; where death will be no more; where mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things will have passed away. (Revelation 21:4) It’s not a threat, it’s a promise! It’s a purple promise.
We’re called in Advent to be enveloped by this purple promise, to be alert and observant; we’re called to think and feel faithfully and sacramentally, to sense the nearness of the kingdom. We’re called to look for the hand of God in the whole of life — in the good, the bad, and yes, even in the ugly. “It’s like the budding leaves on a fig tree,” says Jesus, “When you see the buds you know that summer is near.” (Luke 21:29-30)
But how and why would things like natural disasters, wars, and political upheaval be signs that the Kingdom is near? Wouldn’t it make more sense to see things like an end to war, and people caring for one another after natural disasters, and the clean-up of politics as signs of the nearness of the Kingdom? Why does it seem like Jesus is accentuating the negative?
No, what Jesus is accentuating is a truthful assessment of reality as we know it, a reality that stands in stark contrast to the Kingdom of God that is here in part, but coming in fullness. Our human frailty, our human sin, our world’s birth pangs reflect the signs of how badly we need “thy Kingdom to come.”
When we gather at this Table, we repeat Jesus’ words — “When you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.” We proclaim a mystery that says it is through death that God is victorious in Jesus Christ. We proclaim that Jesus died, and yes, rose from the grave, but his death is what atoned for our sin and prepared the way for Jesus’ resurrection to be the first fruits of many to come. (1st Corinthians 15:20-34) At this Table we proclaim that our present, our past, is not all there is. At this Table we proclaim past, present, and future to be in God’s hands and we wait for the fulfillment of God’s promise in the coming again of Jesus Christ.
And Jesus comes again in a very real and special way every time we celebrate this meal together. It is a foretaste of Jesus’ second advent every time we celebrate this meal. It is a sign that the Kingdom is near. His purple reign covers us, forgives us, resurrects us, nourishes us, emboldens us, and transforms us.
What changes at this Table is everything, because what changes at the Table is us. This Table transforms our lives. This is where we are incorporated into Jesus’ purple reign, into the Body of Christ, so that when the rain of living life does pour into our lives we have the faith, the hope, and the love to weather the storm, to sense the nearness of God’s Kingdom in Jesus Christ and know that we are never, ever alone — not in life and not in death. (Romans 8:38-39)
This Table reminds us of a truth of life — that we do not escape life’s great tribulations just because we’re Christian, and that God does not escape them either. God is present, working and acting through history, through our lives, through the good, the bad, and the ugly bringing about the redemption of the world.
That’s the good news that leads us to stand up and refuse to give in to the cynicism and hopeless desperation of the world.Through faith in Jesus Christ we are able to sense in all things the nearness of God’s Kingdom.
Through faith in Jesus Christ,
we are able to eat and drink,
live and love,
without fearing the rain and the storms of life.
For in Jesus Christ
our lives are secured, saved, redeemed;
our lives are covered in our King’s purple reign.
Copyright 2006 Jeffrey K. London. Used by permission.