Sunday 20 November: Christ the King
Readings: Col 1. 11-20 and Luke 23. 33-43
The feast of Christ the King is always celebrated on the last Sunday of the Church’s year. Next Sunday we begin all over again with Advent, preparing for the coming of the Christ child, but today we are at the other end of our annual retelling of the story of faith and salvation: today we celebrate Christ, reigning in heaven over the kingdom of God through time and eternity. But our celebration is bittersweet, because of the cost of Christ’s kingship
He – that is, Christ – is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Wonderful, a passage to rely on and rest in….. but then….
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
Could you find a starker, more painful contrast anywhere in Scripture, in history?
All things have been created through him and for him…. and it was the crown of that creation that inflicted on him the most painful and humiliating death it knew.
That is the paradox at the heart of our faith, and at the heart of this celebration of Christ the King. To bring and hold these two ideas together in our minds – the dreadful, humiliating death alongside the power that sustains the universe, in whom all things hold together – is to glimpse the mystery that is God and to be reminded that all our experience is encompassed and held within the infinite and sacrificial love of God. That’s what it means to be citizens of his kingdom, subjects of Christ the King, and every one of us here today – Mariella, the smallest baby, the most harassed parent, the oldest nonagenarian – every one of us is a citizen of that kingdom, with the responsibility to share the love at its heart, whatever the cost.
I’ve been doing some personal reflection lately on what it means to take up the cross, as Jesus did, not because we are forced to do so but by choice. Jesus didn’t need to walk that sorrowful road, that Via Dolorosa – he could have turned back at any time. Pilate would have been relieved to let him go away, back to Galilee, out of the centre of power and into obscurity. like other false messiahs before him.
There were some moments – the trial before Pilate is one and so is the response to the good thief on the cross – when Jesus had to make a public choice, but behind those crisis points lay the tooth-gritting determination of all the years that had gone by, the determination to keep on walking the road he knew to be right – the road that would bring him, to the stone pavement before Pilate, and on through Jerusalem’s crowded streets staggering under the weight of his choices, now embodied in the cross.
I’ve probably told you before how at my previous church, ASWD, we had a magnificent double sided processional cross. On one side there is an icon of the crucified Christ and on the other side Christ reigning in glory. This side would be to the front at Easter, and the rest of the year we would be led by Christ on the cross. As we set off in procession one CtK I noticed that the crucifer was carrying the cross with the crucifixion leading. assuming it was an oversight, because surely today of all days we should be following Christ in glory I hissed to my training incumbent, ahead of me in the procession “we missed a trick with the cross”. “no we didn’t” he hissed back, “Christ is reigning from the cross”.
And so to the outcome of my own reflection – which I need to do because times of challenge for the parish are also times of very particular challenge and pain for me as rector. And what God has given me is a very clear picture of the Via Dolorosa, and the renewed knowledge that if we are to follow Jesus we can’t avoid walking the way of the cross, as he told us to. The sacrifices asked of each one of us will be different, according to our situation, our gifts, our calling, but the reward will be the same…. to know that we belong to God, that we are members, citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and that it is a kingdom founded on love, sustained by love, and ruled over by Jesus Christ our king, the firstborn of all creation, in whom all things in heaven and on earth were created, through him and for him., in whom all things hold together.
And so, Mariella, I’m sorry that what I’ve said so far has been dark and difficult, on this great day when you’re at last going to join Jonny and Louis and your parents and all of us as the very newest person to take communion. But here are some things I’d like you, and all of us, to think about as we come together around God’s table to share the bread and wine
We are remembering Jesus who is our friend, our brother and our king, Jesus is an unusual sort of king because the most important thing about him is that he loves us.
Another important thing is that he shows us how we should live, and that we shouldn’t be afraid of doing what we know is right, even when it may not be easy.
And what I believe that means for all of us, from the oldest to the youngest, is that every day, all the time, Jesus Christ our king wants us to be loving and kind to each other, in everything we say and write and do, in private amongst ourselves and in public – and that if we can manage that we will be doing our bit to build his kingdom here on earth, in 2016, in Haslemere. And that is certainly something to reflect on in the last week of the old year……