Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King
22nd Nov 2020
Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King.
"My Kingdom is not of this world" John 18.36.
Today’s Solemnity of Christ the Universal King always occurs on this the last Sunday of the Church’s Year. It provides a powerful reminder of the kind of authority which is known in Christ. By placing his divine authority alongside what we understand to be kingly powers, we learn of a kingship which reverses the accepted notion of grandeur and deference and distance. This kingship is one which is spelt out in this morning’s Gospel. It is one which expresses in the being of Christ a real active, disinterested and unselfish love. It is one which increasingly runs counter to the culture where human acquisitiveness and the cult of self is predominant. It calls forth resources of human generosity above the interests of acquisition or self-will : The Christian Gospel proclaims an ethic of care and disinterested love while at the same time directing our minds and hearts to the source of it all which is Jesus Christ. It is before all else an embodied Gospel. And it is for this that Jesus was born.
As we love the other so we love Christ himself and Christ as God. Love is not dictatorial. It invites us into close relationship with the Saviour and with our fellow men and women. This became recognizable in Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who even though experiencing as we now know, dark and difficult periods of emptiness, nonetheless articulated her care for the poor always in terms of the realisation in their faces, their lives and even in their diseases, the person and being of Christ himself. Christ’s is a kingship whose reign has been borne out of the Cross. It is a sovereign gift which is always to be given, poured out, even and perhaps especially when the cost of that giving is great.
Jesus reigns from the cross as a King. 'For what,' Pope St. Leo the Great asks, 'could be more royal than a soul which by subjecting itself to God becomes ruler of its own body?'
A man crucified, who says, 'Father forgive them'; an executed criminal who can promise heaven to a thief. This is a man who is a ruler, a man in charge of himself, ruling from the cross. So Jesus is king, whether the crowd approves or not.
We have a king who hopes we will follow him and so follow His teaching, but Christ the King never coerces us. It is always the paradox of true love. This love will wait, it will hope, it will never dictate, it will never intervene, it will always allow for free choice. This is unlike President Assad of Syria who has often said that only violence can restore order. It is for this, his own order that he is prepared to kill his own people.
When Jesus laid aside His garments to wash the disciples feet John 13.4 . He was symbolically laying aside his external outer layer of personality which had covered his inner being. Only when this happens can transformation take place. It is the shedding of those things no longer needed. Our outer actions transform us for good or evil, but will come from decisions made within our own hearts. This King we follow shows us that we are not to tread down or doubt or do violence to the good that is in us, so that his transforming love might be enabled in us. Jesus reminds us that God's influence on us all is an influence that will in the life a tested and tried faith, prevail.
On 7th February in the year 1649, following the execution by beheading of Charles I, the office of King in this country was abolished once and for all. But only 11 years later his son King Charles II, was restored with much fanfare, and shortly afterwards Charles I was canonised by the Church in England as a saint, something before and since unheard of. There are two churches in my home town, Plymouth, a staunch follower of Oliver Cromwell, named after the beheaded Charles I after the Restoration of the monarchy. One is simply called ‘Charles Church’ which was gutted during the Second World War and now forms the centre-piece of a roundabout in the city centre. Monarchy in human history has suffered mixed fortunes and has been unpredictable. The gloves Charles I wore on the day of his execution can be seen at Lambeth Library and are a poignant reminder of his demise. Now monarchies are thinly spread and often associated with the condition of exile rather than rule. In this country The Queen’s role as head of the nation is important for the social and cultural functions it fulfils. It is a long distance away from Charles I’s insistence on ruling by divine right.
The Queen’s role includes (as the Royal Website puts it) : “…providing a focus for national identity, unity and pride; giving a sense of stability and continuity; recognising success, achievement and excellence; and supporting service to others, particularly through public service and the voluntary sector. All is now drawn in broad brush strokes. It appears less as a function of power and yet positively as one of symbolic and actual significance and very much as a complimentary and stabilizing presence in our nation to the politicians, the great and the good and the powers that be…But nonetheless its existence remains inseparable from the existence of God and at her coronation the Queen was solemnly anointed to bear her role of service in a rite very akin to the rite of ordination. So solemn, in fact was this rite, that in 1953 it was hidden from cameras and the public in Westminster Abbey. It was holy. Covered by a golden canopy. Its significance renders for the British monarch a meaning far beyond the limits of the modern job description. Its significance, as for the Christ the King, allows us to see that real earthly authority, the one that really influences, combines real human presence with the call to holiness from which it is nourished. Consecration carries and brings forth the means of dedication and enables its fruits to last in honest duty. We are left in no doubt in this morning's Gospel that this consecration is a consecration in and with and through the person of Jesus Christ.
And so in many ways we understand the Kingship of Christ as one that is a Kingship both of this world, and importantly beyond it. It is one which receives its proclamation and anointing from the place of his own offering and his own kingdom teaching. This teaching and instruction, coming from the wisdom of the cross, is the one which offers to posterity the highest ethical standard for the Christian Church. It is one which is rooted in active and disinterested love. Only in this way can the Kingship of Christ be deemed credible. ‘As you did it to the least of these my brethren you did it to me’, says the wise and gentle ruler. Christ the King rules through vulnerability, His own and ours. This is the King whose outstretched arms embrace His death as he embraces us in ours. This is the king who longs to be with us in every aspect of our lives, but allows us not to invite Him into our lives. This is the king who never gives up on us. This is the great and marvellous message at the end of the Church’s year and the Gospel’s final flourish before we turn again and wait for his coming in Advent.
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;