Sermon for the Feast of Christ the Universal King
25th Nov 2018
Sermon for Christ the King Year B
“My Kingdom is not of this world”. John 18.36
It seems so odd that we should be celebrating this Feast of Christ the Universal King for two reasons. Firstly because this is the last Sunday in the liturgical year and next Sunday sees the coming of Advent, the Season of waiting and hoping. Secondly, the idea of Kingship seems such a weak one, with most monarchs; nowadays constitutional monarchs, who tend to wield little or no political (and therefore real) power to determine and shape great events. At home as a child there weren’t many books, but we did have the complete works of Charles Dickens and ‘The Concise Home Doctor’. One of Dickens’ least known works is simply entitled ‘A Child’s History of England’ in which Dickens charts the reigns of all the Kings and Queens of England and offers the enquiring child either a character assassination of the monarch in question or guarded praise. Either way the child is left feeling that English monarchs were a motley lot, even though they possessed huge power and though there were some exceptions, the brand was a somewhat tarnished one.
I find it difficult to see Jesus as a traditional monarch, loaded with orb and sceptre and with a crown upon his head. We remember that the crown he did receive was the mocking crown of thorns from which blood poured down his face. Jesus himself reminds us in today’s Gospel that “my kingdom is not of this world” a statement at variance with Pontius Pilate’s own question of whether Jesus is indeed come as a traditional or radically different kind of king. “So you have said so” is the non- committal reply.
Some words from the Passion hymn “When I survey the wondrous Cross” lead us to look closer at the crucifixion:
See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down,
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”
The wisdom we receive from the Passion narratives and from posterity is that if there is a kind of kingship in Jesus, it is one which emerges out of extremes of self-sacrifice and in a willingness to embrace a state of utter powerlessness. The dialogue with Pilate concerning his apparent kingship is responded to largely in silence.
The important response to the strangeness and newness in Jesus’ kingship is the one which sets his authority in relation to the manner of his death and resurrection. The spirituality of this festival must never be forgotten or understated. No one recognised this more than Henri Nouwen in his Sabbatical Journey: "…on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, Christ is presented to us as the mocked King on the Cross as well of the King of the universe. The greatest humiliation and the greatest victory are both shown to us in today's liturgy. It is important to look at this humiliated and victorious Christ before we start the new liturgical year with the celebration of Advent. All through the year we have to stay close to the humiliation as well as to the victory of Christ, because we are called to live both in our own daily lives."
That presents the Church with quite a challenge. A kingship which is also profoundly challenging to the kind of people we think we are. Jesus says, ‘If there is no suffering and pain and struggle and life change there can be no glory. Equally, if the Church is not a servant church then it has lost the plot. This is the kingly status of the Christ to which we understand this morning. It is a tough reality, a calling to a deeper appreciation of what life truly consists. It is a new and radical kind of authority which comes from the very source of life, God, himself, but it brings news that we would not wish to hear.
But we must say ‘No’ to ‘Black Friday’ and ‘No’ to a Christmas on big expenditure. The only worthwhile Christian witness of the contemporary Anglican Church is the one which would willingly offer something back to the poor, the lonely the discarded ones, the ones for whom even within our own sophisticated political status quo are crushed down in the name of necessary austerity and beaten down by an injurious benefits system, and forgotten by those who will embrace Christmas with gusto, oblivious of those for whom Christmas parades before their eyes as a nightmare scenario.
We are, by and large, comfortable in our Christianity. The Kingly authority of Christ beckons us to act with joy and confidence in his promises as though our own poor Christianity were waiting to more truly reveal itself. We wait for God’s glory to be revealed in us and in Christians like us. There is no better cue for me and you in the coming of Advent than this one. The call to enter a Kingdom not quite of this world's or our own satisfaction.
‘Christ the King’
Our King is calling from the hungry furrows
Whilst we are cruising through the aisles of plenty,
Our hoardings screen us from the man of sorrows,
Our soundtracks drown his murmur: ‘I am thirsty’.
He stands in line to sign in as a stranger
And seek a welcome from the world he made,
We see him only as a threat, a danger,
He asks for clothes, we strip-search him instead.
And if he should fall sick then we take care
That he does not infect our private health,
We lock him in the prisons of our fear
Lest he unlock the prison of our wealth.
But still on Sunday we shall stand and sing
The praises of our hidden Lord and King.