Christ the King

Father David’s sermon 20th Nov 2016

“Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ “
(Luke 23:33-43)

When you hear the word “king” – what do you think of? One of the British monarchs of our history lessons? One of the King Henrys? One of the King Edwards? Or King George VI? Or one who might be our future king: Charles, William or another George? Or do you think of Elvis –“the King” – or Martin Luther King…or even Burger King; king size; or a type of penguin?

Let’s be honest – looking for one meaning of the term “king” in 21st century is impossible. It usually suggests an association with the biggest, the best, the most powerful, with authority of some kind. So what kind of king is Christ, and how does he exercise his authority?

First, we need to recognize that the idea of kingship was central to Christ’s mission. Matthew, Mark, and Luke speak with one voice in telling us that at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus announced that the “kingdom of God” was drawing near. But Jesus upended and undermined the whole concept of kingship. This world’s kingdoms are about power and prestige; Jesus was about service and humility. The rulers of this world are about – at best, control, and governing; at worst – coercion and violence.

Jesus’ ministry was characterized by peace and reconciliation. Kings are surrounded by courtiers, advisors, bodyguards; Jesus chose the lowly and rejected; the weak and vulnerable, as his companions.

Jesus answered, when asked if he was a king, “My kingdom is not from this world.” An earthly kingdom is about establishing identity and protecting boundaries; it is about power and control. Jesus rules over a kingdom which defies understanding: Jesus rules over a kingdom with no borders to protect, no soldiers to defend it and no weapons to deploy. It is a kingdom of subversion; Jesus is the king, who bends over and washes feet; the one who rules is the one who serves.
As a pilgrim people, we are the servants of God and our calling is to make Christ King of our hearts and to bring in his kingdom. As we are told in today’s Gospel reading, when Jesus was nailed to that “old rugged cross” he was nailed between two criminals – one of them was moved to respond to the example of sacrifice and forgiveness revealed in Jesus and when he asked, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom”, he was rewarded: Jesus replied, “In truth, today I tell you that you will be with me in paradise”. The other dismissed Jesus, because Jesus could not give the unrepentant thief what he wanted: an instant end to his suffering. When we find ourselves overwhelmed by suffering in this world, let us use our cross like the repentant thief to give glory to God and make his kingdom come.
It was back in the 1920s, to counter a sense of growing secularism, Pope Pius XI declared that there should be a celebration of the reign of Christ marked by a special occasion set aside proclaiming Christ as King. Anglicans followed suit, declaring that the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the last Sunday of the season of Pentecost and of the liturgical year, would be celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King. So what does all this tell us about ourselves, or about the Christ we celebrate as King on this day?

Once upon a time, Christ might have been hailed as king in the midst of a people who understood kingship, and particularly Christ’s kingship over them. But we no longer understand kings. We need a corrective to our consumer culture that puts us at the centre of the universe, whatever our name. And today’s lesson from the Epistle to the Colossians offers a balance:

“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”

That’s the point of the Feast of Christ the King is to remind us that it is Christ – the image of the invisible God – who reigns in our hearts and in our lives.

From next Sunday – Advent Sunday, the Bishops of the Church in Wales have stated that it is now church law in the Church in Wales, that all Baptised people are welcome to receive Holy Communion no matter what their age. The sacrament of Baptism is the how we become full members of the church, and as full members of the Body of Christ, that means having a sacramental relationship with the Jesus, the king of love in our hearts and lives.

No longer is Confirmation the ticket to receiving communion as a kind of rite of passage. Confirmation is best as a way of proclaiming a mature statement about leading the life of a disciple of Christ. As Anglicans, we believe most strongly that we are part of a Eucharistic community. Eucharistia – a community which gives thanks. Jesus commanded us to break bread, pour wine and remember him.

In celebrating and receiving Holy Communion, we are not just remembering something that once happened to Jesus – no, in celebrating and receiving Holy Communion, we make present and make real and make active that moment when Christ opened his arms upon the Cross so that we might be saved by God’s transforming and resurrection love. We are in fact accepting the reign of Christ as king of our lives.

When we gather Sunday by Sunday at the table of the Lord, we come – not because we must, but because we may – we come young and old; we come fragile and hurting; we come as individuals loved and blessed by God’s love – and together, receiving the bread which is broken and shared between us, God’s kingdom is RE-MEMBERed: it is put back together again. By being a Eucharistic people, we re-form and re-build the kingdom of God – the kingdom of healing and love by inviting Christ to reign in our hearts and in our lives. Amen.