« This writing bug .... | Main | Seasonal tides .... »

November 26, 2006

Christ the King

Today was always known - at least in the Anglican Calendar, as "The Sunday Next Before Advent". It was also referred to as "Stir up" Sunday because the Collect for the day began with the famous phrase, "Stir up O Lord, thy faithful servants ..." Traditionally it was also the day on which the Christmas Puddings would be made and each member of the family had to "stir" the pudding mixture at least once in the process of making them.

In more recent years the day has become known, in a restoration of the pre-reformation calendar, as the Feast of Christ the King. Kings are not much in vogue these days, Hollywood always seems to manage to portray them as drooling idiots or as homicidal maniacs which I expect contributes something to the image, but I would argue that there are few more pertinent images than that of King or Sovereign when we think of Christ.

In some circles there is a desire to personalise him to the point of being at our beck and call - a personal trainer type Jesus, always willing to step in a destress you, pick you up when you've done something idiotic and completely human - but that is not how the early church saw him at all. Take a careful look at the imagery of the Gospels, the Incarnation, the Visitation, the Magi, the Revelation on the mountain, and finally the ressurection and the Ascension. None of these are readily identifiable as things an ordinary person or a human does, and it is a mistake to see Jesus the Christ in ordinary terms. He is not.

The writer of the Revelations was clear on this - Jesus is the King of Kings, he has no equal and there is no Higher Authority. Will he invite us to share the throne? Unlikely, we are his subjects and his servants and not the other way round. Uncomfortable it may be to think in those terms, but it is more acurate than the alternate view.

Enjoy my sermon if you like, it is in the extended post below.

Parish Eucharist for Christ the King
Tewkesbury Abbey
26th November 2006

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is, and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

+May I speak and may you hear
in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

The Book of Revelation almost didn’t make it into the final canon of the books we now call the New Testament. It belongs to a canon of writings that follow a tradition which is evident in the Old Testament and which make use of allegorical images in order to represent spiritual truths and sometimes stern warnings aimed at the rich and powerful or the rulers of the people. Revelations is full of such images, and perhaps some of the best are of the majesty of God and his Christ. Certainly the descriptions of the majesty of the enthroned Christ that it presents are among the most powerful imagery you could wish for. The Book of Revelation contains much that reflects the Imperial court and the cult of Emperor worship prevalent at the time of its writing, around 83 AD, the growing Christian community was facing persecution from the then Emperor Domitian.

Certainly the many titles with which we are familiar today, Such as Our Lord and God, in Latin Dominus et Deus Noster, was one the Roman Emperor conferred upon himself. Others such as Saviour of the World fall into a similar category. What the writer of Revelations is at pains to stress is that Christ the King of all Creation is above all earthly rulers, kingdoms and boundaries. His realm is beyond the usual metaphors which describe anything related to the earthly empires and courts, it is richer, more powerful and ultimately will bring all into its subjection. This is in part what is being said when Jesus is faced by the examination of Pilate

“My Kingdom is not of this world; if my Kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.”
Jesus is saying – and we are all familiar with this concept today – that He is the King of something far greater than this present world and therefore far greater than any of its Kings or Emperors. In the ancient language of Persia we get another of his titles – the Shah ran Shah the King of Kings and another of the titles used for Christ King of Peace was an Eastern title conferred on the Roman Emperors after their extraordinary achievement in imposing an end to civil wars, piracy and the endless round of territorial disputes the region had suffered until the Romans came in 31 BC.

Revelations presents us with a dual image, on the one hand an image of retribution for those who fail to recognise Christ as King, and on the other reward for those who do. One does wonder, in this modern age of Republicanism and egalitarianism whether these images of King and throne are really as pertinent as they were in the first century – I sometimes get the feeling that we make the mistake of thinking ourselves as having the sort of close relationship with Jesus that we enjoy with equals and frequently take for granted – and these images from Revelations remind us that Christ is our King, and a King is both the ultimate power and the ultimate judge in any matter of law. It is a good thing to remind ourselves that we cannot take that relationship for granted at any time, and this is something that the new lectionary has recognised by including several Feasts which help us focus upon Jesus as the Word Incarnate.

As I said at the beginning of my sermon, the book of Revelation falls into a very specific group of writings known as Apocalyptic scripture putting it into the same group as the book of Daniel, Job, Jonah and several others and as such is written in a way which is meant to bring awe and reflection on one’s own shortcomings. As our Gospel reminds us Jesus suggest this to Pilate –
“You say that I am a King. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
Saying that sort of thing to a judge today could get a rather frosty reception, saying it to a man of Pilate’s standing and power was likely to get you into very deep waters. Yet, according to our Gospel accounts, Pilate seems to have recognised something in Jesus which made him wary and ultimately to his attempt to wash his hands of having to deal with it.

Christ is, as the use of the term “I am the Alpha and the Omega” reminds us, the beginning and the end, just as Alpha and Omega are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, so Christ is the First and the Last in everything. It is another way of saying, to a reluctant world, that Christ is the everlasting King of all creation and not of some earthly Kingdom whose power waxes and wanes like the moon. The power of Rome was eventually broken, as was every Empire before and since, Christ alone reigns eternal and we should today remind ourselves that we are His subjects, His body on earth and in the promises He gave us, His companions in the future Kingdom, whenever that shall come.

“As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before Him. To him was given dominion and glory and Kingship that all peoples, nations and tongues should serve Him.”

So, as we approach his table in the sharing of his body and his blood, let us acknowledge him to be our King and give ourselves freely in his service.

Posted by The Gray Monk at November 26, 2006 02:33 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry: