President Kennedy had to go to Dallas. In 1960, his election to the nation’s highest office was with the slimmest margin of the popular vote in history. Then came the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a test ban treaty with the Soviets. Many conservatives thought Kennedy couldn’t handle the office. The President needed Texas, but the Democrat party there was splintered. And even with LBJ on the ticket, the state was already more red than blue, though in 1963 those terms weren’t yet in use. Only a month earlier, Democrat stalwart Adlai Stevenson had been spit upon while visiting Dallas. Jack Kennedy had to woo Texans, which is why First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy accompanied him to the Lone Star State. She charmed even those who loathed him.
But on Friday, November 22nd, the crowds that lined the route of the presidential motorcade through Dallas seemed to belie any lack of support for Kennedy. Numbering some two hundred thousand, they were fulsome and enthusiastic, at points, fifteen heads deep. Riding in the open car with the Kennedys were Texas Governor John Connolly and his wife Nellie. Moved by the joy enveloping them, the First Lady of Texas turned to Jack Kennedy and said, “Mr. President, you certainly cannot say that Dallas does not love you.” He smiled, and then there was a loud, terrifying noise.
In the Gospel of Saint Luke, Jesus resolutely sets his face toward Jerusalem. Scene by scene, he insists that he must enter the sacred city. He has many enemies, but, once there, he is met by enthusiastic crowds. They shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest” (Lk 21:9). Yet by week’s end, his kingdom is only a promise proffered a dying criminal.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23: 42-43).
Of course many would challenge any comparison of John Kennedy to Christ. Political leaders still stir strong reactions even after their deaths. So did the Christ. But Kennedy wasn’t made into a Messiah, invested with Christ-like confidence, by his death. Like Barack Obama, he was already that when he was elected. People pour their hopes into some politicians. When President Kennedy died, a dream was from snatched from us; like most saviors, President Obama must watch as hope seeps away.
At the end of another year of grace, we celebrate Christ the King, remembering that this Messiah conquered death. Some might suggest that we have merely moved our dreams into an indestructible realm of fantasy, one which never changes the world. And even failed politicians at least try to change it. But the Church insists that our weary world needs more than a politician, more than a program of action. It needs a savior, one who can set us free from sin.
The day President Kennedy died, James Reston wrote in The New York Times:
America wept tonight, not alone for its dead young President, but for itself. The grief was general, for somehow the worst in the nation had prevailed over the best. The indictment extended beyond the assassin, for something in the nation itself, some strain of madness and violence, had destroyed the highest symbol of law and order.
We believe that when sin entered the world, something larger than ourselves, some strain of madness and violence, began to dominate our lives. It entered our history, our very nature as humans, and it will not release us from is sway. Believing that human beings can choose an evil larger than themselves is parcel with thinking that they can choose a good greater than themselves. To believe in God, in the vindication of the good, is to believe that history will carry us beyond our hopes and dreams, past our sorrows and sins.
We know that there is an evil in us, in our stories, stronger than we are. Who can doubt that? Ultimately, human history poses a single question. Do we also believe in a Goodness beyond ourselves, one that will yet be our salvation? Christ the King dies upon a destined cross. He summons all of history to Calvary.
2 Samuel 5: 1-3 Colossians 1: 12-20 Luke 23-35-43