Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord

November 26, 2017

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Preached by The Rt Rev’d Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester, using Isaiah 4:2-5:7; Luke 19:29-38 at the service for the Installation of Honorary Canons on Sunday 26th November 2017 the Sunday before Advent.

Christine, Greg and Fiona, I expect you’ve already had lots of bad jokes about being made a Canon – becoming a big shot and that sort of thing. With three new Canons last week and three this week, I suppose I could add that we’ve recently created a cannonade of Canons! Enough, no more jokes! My focus tonight is on that phrase from Luke: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord’.

Why do people stand for the Halleluiah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah? Do they do it because King George II did? Yes, but that’s the point: he stood up. The King never explained his actions, but think about the lyrics: ‘The kingdom of this world,
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever … King of kings and Lord of lords.’ Jesus is King!

The Original Secular

Now we can reduce this claim and turn it into the tradition of standing during the Hallelujah Chorus; alternatively we can claim that Jesus’ kingdom is transparently true to everyone. Neither of these will do. The first approach fails to see that Jesus’ Kingship is a historical claim: he was raised from the dead. The second approach is unrealistic: we must acknowledge that ‘Jesus is King’ is a contested claim. However, Christians have also taken another view, drawing on St Augustine of Hippo. So we can say that all authority is delegated during this time between the resurrection and Christ’s return. We call this period the saeculum: the secular, in-between time.

So Christians invented the original meaning of secular: we are the in-betweenies! We believe Jesus is risen and is King of kings, but we also recognize that his Kingdom is not yet fully realized. We therefore stand against a secularism that denies Jesus is risen and denies a place to those who, in believing Jesus is King, are working to bring about the Kingdom. However, we also recognize that we are called to work with all for the common good of all; we’re not triumphalist. So during this in-between time, we witness to the risen Lord and we also seek to build the Kingdom.

Canons, one of your tasks is to help Christians get this bigger picture. A Cathedral like this projects a big-picture vision of Christianity. It’s a statement. We believe Christ is risen from the dead and King of kings. This Cathedral also points to the kind of life that is expected of those who believe this: to engage with society in order to build up the Kingdom of the King!

New Canons

New Canons, welcome to this big-picture job. You join with me as Bishop in this task, you join with the Dean and other Canons in helping this Diocese to do this, and you are part of the Cathedral’s role in engaging with civic society to show in practice what the Kingdom looks like.

This is a big challenge. Our secular society may look as though it’s confined belief to a private matter. But actually, pluralism is about allowing, during this in-between time, a range of big visions, allowing a range of human associations and a range of cultural viewpoints to flourish. There is nothing to fear, Jesus is risen and is King, but we do have to argue for our viewpoint and show how we can contribute. The Church of England is having to learn this in a new way. We’re called to stir things up and to stir things in: to have clear values and to truly serve others.

Canons, you’re part of this emerging Church of England. Our position as an established church isn’t a given, it’s a responsibility that’s continually reworked. We’re called to remind government that theirs is a temporary authority: they’re accountable to the King of kings. We’re also called to work with government, and with other parts of civil society, to build up the common good. So we challenge and propose policies, and we also do things that make a difference. Canons, may you encourage others in what this means TTT: this time tomorrow – from Monday to Saturday.

Going up to the Temple

As Jesus reached the dip in the valley below the Mount of Olives and began to climb the hill to the Temple Mount, did he have in mind the royal texts from Isaiah and from the Psalms, was he aware that he was replicating the entry of David into Jerusalem, was he conscious that his return would signal the return of the presence of the Lord of lords in smoke and fire? Yes! And so it was that the crowds cried out ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’

Without a doubt the question of kingship is a live question for today’s Church of England. New Canons, just before this service, you took the Oath of Allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. We may not often ask ourselves about this legal requirement, but on this last Sunday before Advent, when we recall Christ the King, this question is a live one for our faith. Remember that King George stood. You are called to stand, in that royal tradition: to stand up for Jesus as King. We thank you for your service so far, we acknowledge that you have set an example to others, we ask you now to lead people in the big picture and the practical outworking of Jesus as King. Amen