Sermon for High Mass – CHRIST THE KING Sunday 26 November 2017
Sermon preached by Fr Julian Browning
Today you can be with Christ in his kingdom. You and I are made to live eternal life, or, to put it another way, there is only one real tragedy, and that is when our lives goes by, and we have not lived them as eternal life. We can have any number of views about Christianity and about the church and what it all means, but we have only one life. The question that faces each of us is not what should I believe, but How should I live, how can I live in Christ’s Kingdom? The message of the Feast of Christ the King is that a life full of competing voices, pulling us first in one direction and then in another, is no way to live as a child of God. That’s dreamland, and the dreamland we call our lives, full of regrets and false hopes and addictions or compulsions of one kind or another, is not real life. Eternal life is real life, understood for what it is, shot through with God’s glory and Christian hope.
The Feast of Christ the King was brought into being by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to get one up on the budding dictatorships of Europe. Above the unity demanded by the state is a greater unity which connects Christians, a unity which crosses boundaries, a unity expressed in the person of Christ as King. As we heard in today’s Gospel: “Before him will be gathered all the nations.” This is still relevant today, as Christianity is being edged out of our national life. But Christ is also king of your heart, king of your soul. That is how eternal life begins for us. Each of us is a unity, complete, when we have Christ as King. We find the ultimate authority for all that we are and all that we do, in his words, in his life, in his death and resurrection.
That is not so easy to accept, because we are so used to running our own little show in the way we think best for ourselves. What is this Christ God, who claims us as his subjects, his children, his flock, his church? Why turn to him as King, as one with total authority, the anointed one? I speak as one who finds this difficult, because there are so many different claims on our allegiance these days, why commit oneself to Christ’s Church? Because that’s quite a commitment, or should be, because as the Letter to Ephesians tells us today: God has put all things under Jesus’s feet and has made him the head of all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Let me suggest one way of looking at Christ the King in a way that makes some sense. It’s important to make progress because only when we are convinced that Christ is king of our souls will we find the hours, the discipline, and the commitment to spend time with him, to invest all that we have in our encounter with the Lord. Only then can we “inherit the kingdom”, as today’s Gospel says, being on the right side of that scary Last Judgment, turning towards God rather than away from Him. We need a reason to do the hard work. Otherwise it’s another case of “I’d like to take this further, I really would, but I’m not sure it’s for me right now.” Christ is king because he is the one who shows us that He understands our situation through and through. He is the inner voice, the Word, who knows what to say to us because he knows us. He has been with us from the beginning, he has shared our good times, and the times we reached rock bottom and did not know where to turn and did not know He was there. Paul understood this, I think. Knowing God is not some knowledge we possess; there is a knowledge, a divine knowledge, which takes us over, possesses us. We tend, because we’re human, to isolate ourselves, with our pet theories and exclusive beliefs, and thus spoil the unity of all things in Christ. We need to be reconciled, to welcome this God who knows us, who possesses us, who lives through us, who knows what we need, and whose life we bear. We know, because our lives are known by Him. We understand, because we are understood. We heal others because we have recognised his healing power in our lives. Every life is a response to Christ’s love, that is the great open secret of Christianity; that is Gospel life. Christ is the shepherd king, who knows each sheep, each lamb, by name, and who searches for those who are lost. Our prayer work, that essential feature of any religious life, isn’t a litany of what we want, it’s an ongoing conversation with that inner voice of Christ the shepherd king, so that our prayer is just His prayer, not my prayers. It’s so much easier that way. In His prayer, we can move into that stream of love and complete understanding that flows between Jesus and his Father, which we call the Holy Spirit.
The Feast of Christ the King is a sort of end of year treat, because next Sunday the church year starts all over again with Advent Sunday. So the Feast of Christ the King is a brave and joyful summary of all that Christ means to us, the Anointed One who alone understands us and reconciles us to God. The Feast is a statement of truth and unity. It sets a course for the year ahead. The Christian, said Newman, is one who waits for Christ: Thy Kingdom come, the simple reality of a sacramental life one day at a time, bringing all of us to eternal life, to the Infinite, who lives – and loves – and saves.