Sunday 21 November 2021
Sunday before Advent
Revd Nicholas Mercer
There is an intriguing passage in John’s Gospel which we hear every Easter
Jesus has been seized and handed over to Pontius Pilate who wastes no time in questioning Jesus, trying to establish who is he is/or claims to be
Pilate asks “Are you the King of the Jews”
Jesus simply replies “My Kingdom is not from this world”
Faced with this cryptic response, Pilate presses the question again
“So you are a king”?
Jesus replies “You say that I am a King”
Jesus, sure footed as always, readily outwits his opponent
But his answers leave Pilate no wiser than when he first asked the question
As a result, even though Pilate tries to release him, he is ultimately left with no choice but to hand him over to be crucified
Jesus is put to death on the cross with the mocking inscription “King of the Jews” above his cross
But we are really none the wiser
This is potentially problematic as, today, we celebrate the Feast of “Christ the King”
The feast is relatively new having been instituted by Pius XI (11th)
However, the origins of “Christ the King” go much deeper than the Papal encyclical of 1925
The Book of Daniel, written two hundred years before the birth of Christ, heralds the coming of a great King, stating
“To him was given dominion and…kingship”. (Daniel 7: 9-10. 13-14)
And in the New Testament, the book of Revelation says
“He will be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev 19:16)
But King of what?
The dialogue with Pontius Pilate illustrates the difficulty we all have today
What is meant by the term “Christ the King”?
What or who are we celebrating on this last Sunday of the Church calendar?
Perhaps the biggest clue from the dialogue with Pilate is when Jesus says
“My Kingdom is not from this world”
It is not unreasonable to assume from this utterance that Jesus is King of Heaven
And, if we look more closely, there are plenty of other clues from which point in the same direction
During his ministry it appears that his disciples have reached a similar conclusion as they jockey for position in his heavenly Kingdom
“Grant us to sit one at your right hand and one at your left” – they ask
And, after the last supper, Jesus says to his disciples
“just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom… you may eat and drink at My table”(Luke 22:28)
Jesus comes very close to articulating his Kingship when says to the High Priest
“You will see the Song of Man seated at the right hand of God” (Mk 14:62)
Inferring that he will be taking his rightful place in God’s Kingdom
But for me, this Kingship is confirmed when Jesus tells the penitent thief “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23: 43)
However, the difficulty of remembering Christ as the King of Heaven is that it is, in a sense, the icing on the cake
We know what lies ahead of us, but what does his Kingship mean to us in Church today?
As so often, the Orthodox Church provides insights that are so often lacking elsewhere
The Orthodox priest Kallistos Ware said
“When the Orthodox Church think of Christ, they think of Him as Christ the King, reigning triumphant from the Tree”
He went on
“The Lord came into the world and dwelt among humans that He might destroy the tyranny of death and set humans free”
“Christ is our victorious king, not in spite of the Crucifixion, but because of it”
“I call Him king because I see Him crucified”
Powerful words which should be an inspiration to us all
We/as a parish/as people here on earth, so often behave as if we are under the tyranny of death
We fear it – we avoid it – but Christ should be celebrated because he has conquered it
He is the “Christus Victor”
As it says in the funeral service, God has “turn[ed] the darkness of death into the dawn of new life
This in itself is reason to celebrate Christ the King today and at all times
But whilst we should all rejoice that he has conquered death, what about the here and now?
What does Christ the King mean for this temporal world?
Jesus was very cautious of telling Pilate that he was King of this world because it might be seen as a direct challenge to his earthly power
But the problem with saying that Christ is King of Heaven or King over death is that there is a temptation to park Him for later
But what about the here and now?
GK Chesterton famously said “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried”
If Christ is King over both heaven and earth then he should hold sway on earth too but, instead, we never really try Christianity
The writer Sam Wells remarked “Just imagine how different our lives would be if we really believed that Christ was King”
Just imagine for a moment that He was?
· Would there be food poverty?
· Or racism?
· Inhumane prisons
· Or, most pressing of all, lack of dignified social care for the elderly?
It would all look very different indeed
He went on to say
“If Christ rules by being born into a homeless family, becoming a refugee, living a life of obscurity in an unfashionable small time, spending his time among fishermen, carpenters, lepers and sinners and being executed alongside thieves and rebels, who are we to say we have better ideas?”
And so to the end of our Church year where, once again, we celebrate Christ the King
What better way to end the year – and begin the next – by reminding ourselves that, not only is Christ King of Heaven
But has conquered death therefore freeing us from its tyranny in our earthly lives
Above all however, we need to remind ourselves that our vocation in this world is not just to be responsible but faithful
And being faithful means living the kind of life made possible when we believe that Christ is King
King on earth as well as time and eternity