Sermon for Sunday 20 November 2022
Sermon for Sunday 20 November 2022: Christ the King
Jesus said on the Cross, Today you will be with me in paradise. Today you can be with Christ in his Kingdom. You have your place there. You are invited by name. His kingdom is not of this world, it’s not somewhere you can ever see or marvel at, it is an authority, a place of truth, which we find within us. We would not be here today if each us had not had just some inkling of a life giving relationship with God which is on offer to us – free, no catches, no entrance fee; the Kingdom of God is within you. This is the light which enlightens everyone who comes into the world. His kingdom is a friendly, loving place, because Jesus does not call us slaves, he calls us friends. His authority is the authority of truth, the truth about God and the world, and here we see what holds us back all the time, the modern assumption that spirituality is made up by human beings, so one creed, one ethical code is as good as another, all created out of human self-interest. Relativism is the technical word, and we find ourselves subscribing to it one way or another. Is there a space for absolute truth? Christ the King opens that space for us. You see, what Jesus did, and what the Gospels make quite clear that he did, was make his relationship with God available to us. “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Christ the King takes us to live with God as Jesus lived with God. A new creation they called it, a new order of relationships based on God’s eternal love for humanity. We’re in there somehow. That is where we belong, where we are at home.
It is there, in the Kingdom of God, with Jesus enthroned, if you like, or resting in our hearts – maybe that’s a better image – it is there that we find the absolute truth about ourselves, the persons God knows we can be. The goal of Christian conversion is to lead an ordinary life with extraordinary love. Can we manage that life with just some sort of spiritual presence and not Jesus? Fair question, but I would say that it is Jesus, in his humanity and in his Risen Presence, who is “the beginning, the first-born from the dead”, who shows us an eternal life with God. Like any relationship, you don’t get to the end of it; there’s always more. And just as every relationship is unique, special to you, so it is between each of us and Christ our King. Like all best friends, Jesus intervenes, but he does not interfere. Our conversion, beginning that friendship, is only a start. The friendship will transform us, and then there is work to do. Christ is to be visible in my life. As Pope Francis says, Reality is more important than ideas.
What sort of a king can Christ be? They thought about that in the early Church. They found a king very different from the sort of imperial royalty we are used to. Jesus never said he was a king. He said he was the good shepherd, and, for the early Church, Jesus is the shepherd king who leads us to a new life. One of the earliest carved images we have of Jesus is of a young shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders. This appeared on early Christian tombs during times of persecution, and because it was also a pagan image, they would not get into trouble for using it. I’m glad they left us that. That youthful image takes us to a time before we made religion dull, difficult and divisive. There is the vitality of our Trinitarian God. The shepherd leads his sheep, those for whom he cares, out to a new life, and he goes before them. One fold, one shepherd. You see, until the modern era, Christians were less interested in puzzling over the truth about God, than in participating in it; not mastering the truth, controlling it, but being mastered by the truth. Then I can surrender all that separates me from the truth.
The Feast of Christ the King is an end of year liturgy, because next Sunday the church year starts all over again with the season of Advent. The liturgical year is literally crowned. In the churches we have to cope with all sorts of divisions and time-consuming disagreements – but in Christ’s Kingdom there are no divisions. The truth is One. Christ is King of the Universe, the Potentate of Time, not in a space travel way, not to dismiss other religions, but because in his kingdom we are connected with the divine, and with all being and all beings. Here is a new experience for us, a unity in Christ, which comes upon us unawares, surprised by joy. This is Christ’s kingdom settling upon us. O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us. This is how the world is changed. This is how the Church unites and heals herself. This is how I receive the Lord into my life again. The Feast of Christ the King is an end of year party, but it is also a bold statement of truth and unity as the fundamental features of our lives in religion. It sets a course for the year ahead. The Christian, said John Henry 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 the Infinite, Who lives – and loves – and saves.
Fr. Julian Browning