Today is the very last Sunday of the Christian year, and it is the day on which we celebrate the feast of Christ the King.
I wonder what sort of images go through your head when you hear the word “King”. Often, one things of pomp and circumstance, the gold State Coach, jewels, servants, money…. and perhaps scandal, too. What do you think of when you think about a king? The modern monarchy is largely ceremonial, but I tell you one thing, I’d rather be represented by a hereditary monarch who is a-political than by a political head of state for whom I did not vote, and whose views were anathema to me! But it hasn’t always been like that.
We think of good, brave kings, like Edward the Third or Henry the Fifth: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”. We think of Elizabeth at Tilbury: “Although I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, I have the heart and stomach of a King, and a King of England, too, and think foul scorn that Parma, or Spain, or any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm.” Or Richard the Lionheart – I’m dodging about rather here – who forsook England to fight against Muslims, which he believed was God’s will for him. Hmm, not much change there, then.
But there have been weak kings, poor kings, kings that have been deposed, kings that have seized the crown from others. Our own monarchy is far from the first to become embroiled in scandal. Think of the various Hanoverian kings, the Georges, most of whom were endlessly in the equivalent of the tabloid press, and cartoonists back then were far, far ruder than they dare to be today. You may have seen some of them in museums or in history books. The ones in the history books are the more polite ones.
But traditionally, the role of a king was to defend and protect his people, to lead them into battle, if necessary; to give justice, and generally to look after their people. They may have done this well, or they may have done it badly, but that was what they did. If you’ve read C S Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, you might remember that King Lune tells Shasta, who is going to be king after him:
“For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there's hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”
And when we think of Christ as King, we come up against that great paradox, for Christ was, and is, above all, the Servant King. No birth with state-of-the-art medical facilities for him, but a stable in an inn-yard. No golden carriage, but a donkey. No crown, save that made of thorns, and no throne, except the Cross.
And yet, we know that God has raised him, to quote St Paul, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Christ was raised as King of Heaven.
And it is the Kingdom of Heaven that he preached while he was here on earth. That was the Good News – that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He told us lots of stories to illustrate what the kingdom was going to be like, how it starts off very small, like a mustard seed, but grows to be a huge tree. How it is worth giving up everything for. How “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
Jesus does lead us into battle, yes, but it is a battle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” And through his Holy Spirit, Jesus gives us the armour to enable us to fight, the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, et cetera, et cetera.
Jesus requires that His followers forgive one another, everything, all the time. Even the unforgivable things. Even the abusers, the tyrants, the warlords…. Even Osama bin Lade! We may not hold on to anger and hatred, for that is not the way of the Kingdom.
In our Gospel reading this morning Pontius Pilate clearly wondered what it means to name Jesus as King.
Pilate, who served the most powerful king in the world, knew what a king was. He knew about the power that a King has, the authority that he wields, the unquestioning obedience that he demands, and the power that he has to compel that obedience should it not be volunteered.
Pilate was a creature of his time, one who knew and accepted the rules – one who in fact was charged with making and enforcing the rules, and while he, like people today, sought to use those rules to his advantage, he knew what the consequences of ignoring or scoffing at the rules were.
One of the rules that Pilate was called to enforce was the rule that anyone who claimed to be a king, anyone who dared to set themselves up as an authority over and against the lawful authority of Caesar, was to be executed.
It was a rule that Pilate had no scruples about enforcing. It was a rule that he had enforced thousands of times throughout Galilee.
And so when Jesus is brought before Pilate the charge that is laid against
him is that he is a revolutionary – that he is one who unlawfully claims to be the Messiah, the King of the Jews.
The very idea that the bruised and beleaguered man that stood before him could be taken for a king must have seemed ridiculous to Pilate. He knew what Kings acted like. He knew what they looked like. He knew what even those who pretended to be kings acted like and looked like. And Jesus was not like that!
As we have seen, Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world. He is the king who rides on a donkey, the king who requires his followers to use the weapon of forgiveness, the king who surrendered to the accusers, the scourge, and the cross.
But he is also, and let us not forget this, he is also the King who was raised on high, who triumphed over the grave, who sits at the right hand of God from whence, we say we believe, he will come to judge the living and the dead.
So are we going to follow this King?
Are we going to turn away from this world, and its values, and instead embrace the values of the Kingdom? I tell you this, my friends, most of us live firmly clinging to the values of this world. I include myself – don’t think I’m any better than you, because I can assure you, I’m not, and if I didn’t, Robert soon would! We all cling to the values of this world, and few of us truly embrace the values of the Kingdom.
But if Christ is King, since Christ is King, then we must be aware that he is our King. If we are Jesus’ people – and if you have never said “Yes” to Jesus, now would be a terrific time to do so – if we are truly following Jesus with our whole hearts and minds, then let us remember our King calls out to us from the cross and invites us to follow him and to pray fervently for the coming of his kingdom –
• a kingdom which welcomes those whom the rest of the world might find most unlikely followers,
• a kingdom in which we can ask for forgiveness from those whom we have hurt, and come to forgive those who have hurt us.
As we reach the end of one church year and look to the beginning of a new one, may the one whom we know to be King of the universe and ruler of our lives guide us in our journeys of welcome and forgiveness that our churches may include all whom God loves, and our hearts may find healing and wholeness. Amen!
Oberstdorf as Austria, 22 May
2 hours ago