Please join us for our service of Holy Communion for Sunday 22 November 2020, celebrating Christ the King.
You can read Rev Deborah’s sermon again here:
So, what images come to mind when you think about kings?
Is it the likes of King Alfred and the burnt cakes?
Maybe it is the legends of King Arthur (all be it a legendary king) and the knights of the round table who supposedly led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries
What about William the Conqueror, best remembered for leading the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, which changed the course of English history.
Henry VIII is best known for his six wives, “Divorced, Beheaded, Died: Divorced, Beheaded, Survived”. Perhaps, more importantly, Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church and had Parliament declare him supreme head of the Church of England, starting the English Reformation.
Queen Victoria, who presided over the social and industrial transformation of Britain
And what about our own Queen, Elizabeth 11, who is now the world’s longest reigning living monarch.
Perhaps it is not so much what kings or queens do, but the characteristic of king/queenship that they bear.
So, what are the qualities that we see in kingship?
- A leader
- Living with integrity.
- Protecting the realm.
- Providing order.
- Leaves a legacy.
- Inspiring other
- Administering justice
To name but a few.
So, how does that relate to our view of the kingship of Christ?
It is interesting that the life of Jesus is framed in kingship. At his Nativity three kings are seeing the new-born King of the Jews. And at the Crucifixion, the notice hammered onto the top of his cross ironically echoes the same unfulfilled promise – ‘This is Jesus, King of the Jews.’ What kind of king begins his earthly life in a stable and ends it as the victim of a cruel public execution?
To the early Christians the king was the Emperor of Rome, a figure of worldly power who persecuted them, martyred them, forced them to worship false gods. It would have been strange for them to think of Jesus as resembling their greatest enemy. So instead they imagined Jesus as more like themselves: the suffering servant who was obedient even unto death; or in terms of the homely things that surrounded them and supported their lives, the lamb, the vine, the fish, the shepherd. One of the most dramatic images of Jesus kingship is when he wraps a towel around himself and washes his disciples feet and says ‘ If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’
In today’s gospel reading starts with the traditional idea of kingship, Jesus coming into glory, seated on a throne, surrounded by angels – the power, the glory and the majesty and then we get to the crunch of kingship that has epitomised Jesus throughout the whole of his life – servanthood. Jesus came to earth not to be served, but to serve, which he expects of us.
The gospel then focuses on justice. Justice is one of the most profound longings of the human heart. If there is no justice, then deep within ourselves we know that something is out of joint. Justice is hard to define and even harder to put into practice but has never stopped society seeking for it and working for ways of doing it better. Justice doesn’t simply mean punishing wickedness but bringing the world back into balance. Jesus is to be exalted as ruler after has suffering and we are invited to see how his just rule will be executed.
All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. In the middle east and to this day, sheep and goats regularly graze together, but need to be separated at night, so that goats, being less hardy than sheep, can be kept warm. It’s often quite difficult to tell them apart.
So, what is the criteria for judgement? It hinges on the way the way those who are being judged have treated, ’one of the least of these my brothers and sisters.’
Matthew speaks of the final judgment. “When the Son of man comes in his glory” he will separate the righteous from the unrighteous. He will do it on the basis of how they helped or did not help those around them, those in need. There is surprise for everyone. The sheep are surprised because they did not know they were doing anything special when they helped others and the goats are surprised because they miscalculated what was important and who was not.
We then have the judgement criteria.
- The hungry
- The thirsty
- The stranger
- The naked
- The sick
- The prisoner.
We can respond positively
An army chaplain was visiting wounded soldiers in the hospital. The chaplain offered to read some Bible passages to one young soldier. But the soldier said, ‘I’m cold,’ so the chaplain wrapped his own coat around the young man. Next, the soldier asked for something to drink. The chaplain propped up the soldier’s head and held his own water canteen to the young man’s lips. The soldier was hungry and the chaplain offered him a sandwich. Then the chaplain asked again if he could read some passages to the young man. This time, the soldier replied, ‘If there is anything in that Bible that caused you to do what you’ve done for me, yes. Please read to me that part of the Bible’.
Or we can respond negatively.
‘I was hungry and you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger. Thank you.
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel to pray for my release. Thank you.
I was naked, and in your mind, you debated the morality of my appearance. What good did that do?
I was sick and you knelt down and thanked God for your health, But I needed you.
I was homeless and you preached to me of the shelter of God’s love. I wish you’d taken me home.
I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me. Why didn’t you stay?
You seem so holy, so close to God; but I’m still very hungry, lonely, cold and still in pain.’
Today we celebrate ‘Christ the King’ with all our many images and ideas of kingship. We celebrate Christ the king Christ , Jesus coming into glory, seated on a throne, surrounded by angels in power, the glory and the majesty but we also celebrate Jesus, the servant king who Gave his life for all.
It is not a matter of heralds with trumpets, of unmistakeable majesty … but of recognising the king where he is always to be found – with those on the edge.
Christ, who chooses to spend his time with the marginalised, the oppressed and the forgotten.
Christ, who is utterly committed to those whom nobody values, nobody respects.
Christ who identifies himself so completely with “the least of these” that when we look at them, we know we are seeing him too.
The hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner…
People who need us, who need care – not just a generalised expression of good will.
People we probably won’t be at ease with, people who may demand things that we find it very hard to deliver.
People we might not like but are called to love.
People in whose faces we should expect to see the face of Christ.
Accepting Jesus Christ as our king makes us responsible for our actions by being willing to enter into the chaos and story of another – to see what scares them, to understand their fears and to embrace their pain. To have eyes to see and hands to help.
I would like to finish with the words of Mother Theresa.
“Many today are starving for ordinary bread.
But there is another kind of hunger –
the hunger to be wanted, the hunger to be loved, the hunger to be recognised.
Nakedness too is not just the want of clothes,
but also about loss of dignity, purity, and self-respect.
And homelessness is not just want of a house;
there is the homelessness of being rejected,
of being unwanted in a throwaway society.
The biggest disease in the world today
is the feeling of being unwanted and uncared for.
The greatest evil in the world is lack of love,
the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbour.”’
Lord, Christ the King, warm our cold hearts with your grace,
so that we your disciples may produce the fruits of love
as you have taught us and with this love we shall overcome the world.”