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Communion Meditations (2014)

Emperor Norton the First

Originally scheduled for December 14

On September 17, 1859 various newspapers in the city of San Francisco received the announcement that, by popular demand, one Joshua Norton was proclaiming himself to be Emperor Norton the First, Dictator of North America. Many of the newspapers reprinted the letter in the form of a formal announcement. Norton was indeed a lunatic quite out of touch with reality. Perhaps it was that which explains his appeal to the city of San Francisco.

San Francisco took him to heart, and humored him on all occasions. Restaurants wanted to be known as an establishment where the Emperor frequently dined; theaters always reserved a box for the Emperor on opening night. On one occasion a policeman, who evidently had a defective sense of humor, arrested Norton to commit him to an insane asylum. The city was outraged; editorials proclaiming themselves scandalized by such conduct appeared in all the papers. The incident was ended when the chief of police released Emperor Norton and issued a formal apology to him. In response, Emperor Norton magnanimously pardoned the policeman who had arrested him. The chief of police then ordered all members of the police force to salute the Emperor whenever they encountered him.

A harmless lunatic, he amused the people of San Francisco. It goes without saying that they never took him seriously as an Emperor; they participated in this harmless fraud because it amused them. He had no right to expect any more than that; after all, what had he ever done for them( besides amuse them)? Since he had done nothing for them, they quite rightly felt that they need do nothing for him. Humor is not a great source of authority.

So why did they go along with the gag? It was a harmless amusement, and — note this — Norton never asked them to change. There was no sense of commitment or authority about Emperor Norton the First. If the authority ruling over you has never done anything for you, it’s difficult for you to do anything for them.

By contrast, Christ does indeed ask for change — indeed, a total and complete change in your life. He asks you to change, and then he changes you. It is simply an echo of his statement, “all authority has been given to me…”. It is logical therefore to ask, “what that Christ ever do for me?” If he demands something of me, he must’ve done something for me. And he did; he did it at the Cross. He atoned for your sins by his death on the Cross.

So what does he ask of you in return, here at communion?

·         He asks you to contemplate your life, your sins.

·         He asks you to repent of those sins.

·         He asks you to partake in memory of the sacrifice he made for you.

Then he asks you to change — first to change yourself, then to change the world.

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