Humbled and glorified

November 24, 2019

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Preached by Canon Dr Brian Rees using 1 Sam. 8:4-20 St John18:33-37 at Mattins on Sunday 24th November 2019, the Sunday next before Advent.

Today is the ‘Feast of Christ the King’, the Last Sunday of the old Christian Year. Yes, I know it does not feature in the Prayer Book of 1662, which many of us at Mattins and Evensong love; nor does it celebrate the ‘stir-up’ collect encouraging us to make our Christmas cakes and puddings. But hey, … I do not want to live in 1662, thank you very much, and if we knew the full reality of the probable life then for you and me, I suspect neither would you.

This feast is a modern development. Established by Pope Pius XI for the Roman Communion in 1925 to be the Last Sunday of October, it may well have been an attempt to put in Christian context the fascism, dictatorships and bloody chaos of the Russian Revolution, and the devastating and costly First World War.

The Vatican II Council of that amazingly gentle Christian man, Pope John Paul XXIII, moved it to the Sunday next before Advent in 1969/70, to give honour to Christ as the Lord of all creation, and to affirm Christ’s gentle rule and dominion as the fitting end of the liturgical year. It became established within the Anglican Communion with our modern ‘Common Worship’ book, used daily here in the Cathedral, in 2000. And personally, I thank God for this development: it is our highest point in this annual cyclical spiral.

At its heart it is a magnification of the Feast of the Ascension, acknowledging the rule and dominion of Christ over all things, earthly and heavenly, seating him at the right hand of God,…. But there is so much more to it.

I have never particularly liked or subscribed to the idea of ultimate judgement associated with this last Sunday of the Christian Year, as in the tympanum on most western doors of medieval churches. Heaven and hell, … saved or damned…predestined or foreordained…. Like most modern people, I just do not buy it. Nor do I like particularly a remote and glorified heavenly, autocratic King… if that means we are all serfs, bowing and scraping. It is not within my Canadian meritorious, egalitarian nature, nor does it fit with my experience of the people I truly value, admire and respect and want in my life and in control of my destiny.

Yes, in our daily lives we should acknowledge Jesus as Lord, the Christ. But we must never forget the humiliated Jesus, the mocked and tortured and tormented ‘king’ on the cross. ‘You saved others, save yourself….’ Here he identifies with us at our lowest and most vulnerable.

I hesitate at this point, for it is not a particularly great time to discuss monarchy, or political leaders. Embarrassment of our worthies, and political snipes and gross promises here in the UK, and probable impeachment of the President without penalty in America…. Many of the Royal Family and our politicians deserve our praise, our prayers, and our ardent encouragement for what they are doing and attempting daily. But so many have failed us, and this repeatedly. The lies, the exaggerations, the dramatic, vindictive vitriol against their opponents…. I was reading the newspaper the other night on the train, and oh dear…. I see why the new generation has no faith in the monarchy, in politics, in law-enforcement, in any sense of morality or justice generally…. And see no reason to vote. Even I have grown to hate the news. The interviewers annoy me, and the glib, packaged and choreographed answers annoy me even more….

‘What kind of Headmaster do you want to be, Brian?’ This is the question that was posed to me when I was first appointed a head…. Wow, that was a hard question that I had not expected. Thinking back on headteachers I had known and served, some had been difficult and annoying, some … troublesome and argumentative, some … autocratic and haughty…. Some … great and talented; kind, inquisitive, collegiate and generous…. What would I aspire to be in my headship? Well, me and my family ultimately became the ‘Family Firm’, hosting and sharing, and caring and helping…. I hope that I asked nothing of anyone that I would not do myself.

Is this what happened in the temptations of our Lord in the desert at the start of his ministry? Remember the Devil’s taunts? Do some neat miracles to win recruits? Change natural things to feed the poor? Force religions to work together as one? … Jesus rejects them all.

And then when Jesus is interrogated at his trials of Maundy Thursday….as in our Gospel, this is explicit…. ‘Are you ‘the king of the Jews’?’ What kind of king are you? Where is your kingdom?

In the first lesson, we have poor Samuel, disheartened that his children have been rejected from future governance of Israel by God, and being told by God what poor leaders the peoples’ choice of a king would make. But God accepts that He personally has been rejected as King…. Rejection is key to this understanding of Kingship.

So what is it that ‘Christ the King’ represents to you and me this morning? Where is Christ the King for you and me? What does he do? Where is he?

He is here, sitting next to you in the pew, and living in the house adjoining or across from yours. He is the one who helps you when you are at your lowest and in need of a friend. And you, for your part, become him at times to others….

When we were baptised, we were baptised into Christ. We were commissioned and challenged to be Christ in the world. But not as some autocratic dictator, not as a remote judge, not as a haughty, distant advocate. … but as a trusted brother or sister, a counsellor, a dear friend; the one who is simply and unassumingly there in the midst of joys and sorrows. The one to whom we turn, in good times and bad…. We become the Christ in the world, animated by the Christ crucified, risen and Ascended.

I find the Orthodox Church more helpful in this regard. The resurrection of Christ on Easter Day is not personal to him, so much as being there for us: the Risen Christ plunges his bloodied cross into the dark sea of death and says, ‘enough, no more!’ And he says it for us, not just for himself.

Liturgical developments and changes often leave me cold, for my doubts in church, politics and life sometimes challenge and exceed my faith, but this is one development of which I approve. I want and need Christ next to me as I face life and death, and all it holds. And I am routinely aware through my family and neighbours of his loving presence.