Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King
26th Nov 2017
The Feast of Christ the King
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit
on the throne of his glory”. Matthew 25.1-2.
When we speak of ‘Christ the King’ we admit to a Kingship whose authority is a necessarily hidden one. But its substance is clear enough. Jesus rules from the Cross and he rules as a suffering servant. It is in the life of service both to our fellow creatures and in the natural worship we owe to God that underpins our true place on this earth. Jesus speaks as God when he says, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren (the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick person and the prisoner) you did it to me”. There is an authority at work here, but unlike the authority of the human will it is one which strikes at the heart of the human condition and calls forth the recognition of God not as something or someone ‘other’ but as incarnated in Jesus and by extension in my neighbour. This is an authority which is borne by Christ on the Cross as the ultimate in the giving of self for the other. The Jesus rules who rules from the Cross calls from us not blind obedience with threat of execution, but the just and gentle rule of the One who draws from us our real humanity and all its tremendous possibility. Human Kings in the past have been successful, doubtful or terrible in quality. The Jews in Jesus’ time in would have longed wistfully for the return of a great King like David or Solomon. Instead they got Jesus, who was to declare his Kingship in response to the questioning of Pontius Pilate. It was a declaration of the truth about ourselves, the truth that so often lies buried and denied and maimed and which God longs us to express and enjoy:
Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” John 18.37.
Many Kings and Rulers have been tyrants and truth deniers. On 5th December 1931. The Russian leader Stalin ordered the blowing up of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, and even had it filmed. Built on the banks of the great Moscow River, Stalin had decided that it was to become the site for a new Palace of Supreme Soviets, and the winning architecture looked like a giant multi layered wedding cake. It was massive, and on top of its highest tower was a huge statue of Lenin, conveniently just a little taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty. But it never came to be built. The official Soviet History owed this to the coming of The Second World War, but the real reason was that the site for its construction, on the banks of the river, consisted of sand. Sand could not hold a building of such immensity. Stalin, was the man of steel had attempted to build his house on sand! He had attempted to fill the apparent ‘void’ left after the destruction of a holy site, with a concrete monstrosity. The Cathedral has now been completely rebuilt on the same site, a site, yes, of sand, but on it built a the new holy church whose proportions lie in harmony with its natural surroundings rather than in opposition to them.
What the Collect for Christ the King expresses is the just and gentle rule of Christ based upon an experience of God which is a communication of at one ness with both the divine and the human. And so the collect for Christ the King has this put into a succinct form of wods:
Almighty and eternal God,
you have made of one blood all the nations of the earth
and will that they live together
in peace and harmony;
so order the course of this world
that all peoples may be brought together
under Christ's just and gentle rule;
through Jesus Christ our Lord
who is alive with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.
The Divine Liturgies of the Russian Orthodox Church were resumed in the restored Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 2000. The Cathedral stands as a testament to ‘just and gentle’ rule of God and to the resilience of the Russian spirit, and the light of truth with proportionate blessing.
I was speaking to someone yesterday who is ready to be quite frank about his Christianity. Without being awkward at all, he will, when the occasion feels right and natural, speak about the importance of Christian Faith. But he has admitted that most often he is met by a wall of indifference and even antipathy. Christianity is not deemed to carry authority. It seems not to command attention. This is often because his listeners are convinced they have no use for it. The connection is not made with the life of the human soul. This is because the framework around which modern life revolves is so often a surface one - the one bound to self-sufficiency and its partner consumerism. It is often difficult for the modern day enquirer to engage in a conversation regarding Christianity because it lies out of the range of possibility, and too many people no longer have an inner spiritual mind or practice from which to understand The Christian Faith.
In the Twenty-First Century, it will be more important than ever that the Church is a servant church, one in which church communities are places of understanding and of sanity, of community, of truth-bearing and of prayer, who witness to Christ through the offering of their time and patience and who are seen in the wider community to be places of natural ingathering. In such a way the presence of Christ is seen and known, and churches become the natural places of enquiry and inhabitation. They are above all to be hospitable places where all receive welcome, where all are included and where all may find space to be themselves and to spiritually prosper. Above all churches exist to unite all people in the coming together of the divine and the human agencies.They live under the just and gentle rule of a different kind of King.