Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Feast of Christ the King

Christ the King
22 November 2020
10.30 Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

Before I came to Bolton Abbey, I was Rector of Christ Church Cathedral in Port Stanley

It is the most Southerly Anglican Cathedral in the world and was, literally, shipped over to the Falkland Islands at the end of the nineteenth century

It came in kit form and included the East window which had a stained glass depicting Christ the King

Enthroned with orb and sceptre, under his feet was the small speck of the Falkland Islands alongside South America

This was because the Cathedral was once the seat of the Bishops of the Southern Cone

This East Window in the Cathedral however is very different from the East Window at Bolton Priory

As we know, the East Window at Bolton Priory was destroyed in the Reformation

There is now just a hollow arch overlooking a graveyard

Two windows – both looking East- both proclaiming the Resurrection of Jesus Christ -one in ruins and the other in resplendent glory

There could not be a starker contrast

Today we celebrate the Feast of “Christ the King”

The feast is relatively new having been instituted by Pius XI

However, the origins of “Christ the King” go much deeper than the Papal encyclical of 1925

The Book of Daniel, two hundred years before Christ, heralds the coming of a great King, stating

To him was given dominion and glory and kingship that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. (Daniel 7: 9-10. 13-14)

Indeed this notion of kingship is maintained in the New Testament

St Matthew tells us at the beginning of his Gospel that Jesus was the Son of David (Matthew 1:1)

His credentials are impeccable

And as the book of Revelation says “He will be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev 19:16)

And will bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth

At first blush, the title “Christ the King” seems to support to the status quo

We hear of a king, from a Royal dynasty, seated on his throne, no doubt orb and sceptre in hand

This notion of Christ the King is reinforced by our own Prayer Book

With its habitual prayers for Kings and Queens, preceding all others

Christ is King and his representatives given authority to govern, on his behalf, here on earth

You could be forgiven for visualising him sitting on his throne

Orb and sceptre in his hand rather like the East Window at the Cathedral

Christianity, however generally inverts the world, turning the social order on its head,

The Gospel exalts, not the rich and powerful, but those at the bottom of the social order

The Beatitudes states: Blessed are “The poor, the hungry, those who weep, who mourn, who are hated”…..for there’s is the Kingdom of God

So radical is the call to overthrow the existing order in the Gospel that, in some parts, of the world it has been supressed

The military junta in Argentina outlawed the public display of “Mary’s song” [Magnificat] during the Dirty War (1976-1983) as it called for the “put[ting] down the mighty from their seat

But the call for the mighty to be put down from their seat means/logically/ that Christ the King cannot be a powerful King sitting on his throne over his subjects

He must be someone else instead

Most enlightening in this debate is Christ himself

The Jews put Jesus on trial for claiming, they thought, to be the King of the Jews

And it was Pontius Pilate who was required to bottom out this question at his trial

Recorded in the Gospel of John (John 19: 33-38), Pilate asks Jesus “Are you the King of the Jews”

Jesus replies “My Kingdom is not from this world”

So Pilate says “So you are a king”

Jesus replies “You say that I am a king”

Jesus went on “I came into the world to testify to the truth”

To which Pilate famously replies “what is truth”

The exchange is at an end, not only because of the alacrity of Jesus but also because Pilate can only envisage an earthly King

But Jesus has already given an explanation to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel

He said

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat… thirsty and you gave me something to drink a stranger and you invited me in…in needed of clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

The Anglican theologian Martyn Percy put it this way

When we stare up at the throne where we expect to see Jesus. But the throne is empty. He himself tells us that we will not find him there. He is in prison he is begging for food. He lies defenceless in the cradle, or cold and shivering in the gutter. He lies tortured and dying on the tree. Behold your King

So, once again, we are about to begin the New Year in the Church

Next week sees the start of Advent and Christmas where, traditionally, we would have sung carols

And one of those carols tells the story of a King

But “Once in Royal David’s city” is not about a palace, but a “lowly cattle shed”

It is not about a Royal family but a huddle of refugees

It is not about a prince but a defenceless baby

This is Christ the King

Not with all the trappings of earthly power- robes, orb and sceptre astride the globe

But instead a ruined arch