Sermon preached by Katherine Salmon on Sunday 25th November – Christ the King
Our Gospel this morning seems to have much more to do with Holy Week than the last Sunday in the Church year.
Look at why Christ the King was created as a Feast, and what the Gospel passage from John says about the theology of non-violence.
Christ the King officially marks the last Sunday of the Church’s year, and generally is the time when, if you have any dealings with small children or teenagers, the gleeful shouts of how many sleeps until Christmas start to annoy you more frequently. For many years, this Sunday was known as “Stir-up Sunday” so cooks knew it was time to get the pudding ready. I am not sure about puddings these days, but I do know some All Hallows friends who make amazing Christmas Cake and normally have them done well before today!
The most important emphasis of today is celebrating the centrality of Christ to our lives and our mission. It was declared a feast just over 80 years ago, when Pope Pius XI felt that Catholics in Europe needed a new focus after the First World War, and wanted people to have a sense of security. With the perfect vision of hindsight, we can see how fragile this peace was, with the roots of WW2 already looming. Looking at it in our troubled 21st century world, we know as Christians that we can only have a certain amount of trust in earthly powers. We have recently seen the huge personal power of Obama in the presidential elections, and, much as many of us here probably breathed a sigh of relief, we know he and his party are not perfect. They may operate in many ways that we approve of, yet they are fallible.
We are all concerned about the balance of power in parts of the middle east., and we only have to read Rev Andrew White’s blog from Baghdad to realise how difficult life is for Christians in other parts of the world. Depending on our ages, we may remember some of the power of the communist regime shattering when the Berlin wall came down. The church that proclaimed the feast of Christ the King wanted certainties. Probably there are times we would like that assurance, but with our knowledge of recent history and politics, we know our peace is fragile, even peace in our own society with the riots that tore many cities apart only 18 months ago.
How different is the reign of non-violence that Jesus promises. Unlike other regimes where there are always the haves and the have nots, Richard Rohr speaks of Jesus as the only one that gets away from dualistic thinking- not the powerless or the powerful, but, as we say in our Eucharistic prayer the powerless and the powerful, both trapped by exploitation and oppression. Jesus knows that outside of his kingdom, there will always be a regime that traps someone, either because they hold tightly to their own power, or because they believe they are powerless. Jesus wanted to raise up those who were oppressed by the law, but also rescue those who thought the only way to succeed was to keep all the rules perfectly.
This year has also been one of huge Jubilee celebration. We will, I am sure, have had mixed feelings about the pageantry, the expense, and the royal family itself, Perhaps we can reflect on the Biblical nature of Jubilee, the cancelling of debts, the righting of wrongs and raising up the downcast and binding up the broken hearted. Christian Aid has launched a campaign highlighting the unfairness of our tax systems that favour our financial institutions and hit small businesses, and this has become known as the Robin Hood Tax, after another man who turned royal and rich regimes upside down. Hopefully this campaign is something that will, eventually make a difference to those who are bowed down by tax burdens. We can continue to speak out about the financial irregularities of our system, and thankfully, we now have an Archbishop who believes in speaking out on some of this.
The crucifixion reminds us of the ultimate act of non-violence, Jesus laying down his life for his friends, building bridges, making new relationships. He gave an entirely new meaning to Kingship- complete vulnerability. No crown, no money, no earthly authority.
Jesus knew that Barabbas would be set free and would walk that lonely road to Calvary himself, yet I believe he walks it with all those who go through dehumanising experiences, those who are downtrodden, those who have been oppressed. He alone has the power to overturn that power and to make all things new, to enable people to begin again. Only Christ can revisit with us those painful parts of our lives when we could cheerfully shout “release Barabbas” when we endure suffering and pain. At times it may well feel that Jesus is asking us to walk the impossible way, the way that leaves us vulnerable. Every time we walk with someone who is struggling, and build them up, we see them, and us become a littler more Christ-like.
Christ the King is a feast that looks both ways- back through the year we have come, and forward to the new coming of Christ in Advent, in a new way to us, because every encounter we have with Christ is new. It is healthy to look back, individually and as a community, to see where we have found Christ close to us, and where we have struggled, and to look to the new year with open hearts to what Christ might be doing, in our lives and here in the midst of community. It may be helpful, in a quiet moment, to acknowledge our mistakes to ourself and God, and to ask for healing. It may also be appropriate to give thanks for the times God has been close, perhaps in times of trial, to look at the parts of our lives we have struggled with and hand them over.
I will finish with a quote from Greenbelt speaker Brian McLaren:
I believe in Preaching Peace’s power to help others see the Gospel in a broader, deeper, more hopeful light because it has helped me in exactly this way. If we want to change the world, we need to change the stories it lives by, and Preaching Peace helps Christian leaders to discover a story of peace and reconciliation rather than one of condemnation, conflict, and exclusivity. – Brian McLaren