Homily for Christ the King

“I often wish I were a King
and then I could do anything
If only I were King of Spain
I’d take my hat off in the rain
If only I were King of France
I wouldn’t brush my hair for aunts.
I think if I were King of Greece
I’d push things off the mantelpiece.

So said Christopher Robin aged 5 in A.A. Milne’s poem: When We Were Very Young.

In his young mind, a King could do what he wanted when he wanted.

In reality the hands of modern-day constitutional monarchs are as tied as the rest of us – perhaps even more so.

Kings and Queens ain’t what they used to be – which is largely to the good - and it is therefore perhaps unsurprising that today’s Feast has been criticised in certain circles as characteristic of ‘political theology in the old style!’

A piece of ecclesiastical triumphalism, which has had its day…

Instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to celebrate the sixteen hundredth anniversary of the Council of Nicaea [the Council which composed the Creed] - the institution of the Feast of Christ the King was also a political statement - affirming the primacy of Jesus Christ in the face of rising nationalism and fascism.

It was officially introduced into the Church of England with the advent of Common Worship in the year 2000 - surprising really in a church increasingly governed by elected members of General Synod, who might have preferred to opt for a more democratic sounding: “Christ the President”                                       

If the Feast of Christ the King was indeed an attempt to stress the political rights of the Church over a society which appeared to want to live without her… then it has self-evidently failed.

But it remains theologically true nevertheless and ironically perhaps – even more relevant and easier to relate to than it did in the 1920s

Christopher Robin daydreamed: “I often wish I were a King and then I could do anything.”

And there is surely something of the antiquity, power and mystique that goes with the title of “King”– which still speaks to us today – even if that has more to do with romantic legend than historical reality.

And yet in the increasingly secular society in which we live, Christ, akin to most other kings and queens, has in the popular mind at least, been deposed and is now living in quiet obscurity – the relic of a bygone age.

Yet as the history of today’s feast illustrates: the Church proclaims Christ as King in good times and bad, “in season and out of season.”

And as such both ways of looking at the title of “King” reveal something of His nature: which makes of today’s Feast - a sign and source of real hope for the Church and for the whole of humanity.

If we are to believe the unbelievable, that Jesus is universal King in a world that largely ignores him, we should remember that we are not the first to do so.

At the Last Supper on the eve of his trial and execution, Jesus spoke as one expecting a crown:

‘Father, glorify your Son’ He said.

And on the Cross the Father did glorify Him; even if the only crown he wore was one made of thorns.

As the choice of today’s Gospel makes clear:

Jesus reigns from the Cross:

Triumphant over the temptation to power and fame…

A crucified Christ who says to his executioners:

“Father forgive them”

A man executed as a common criminal who can promise a place in heaven to a repentant thief…

If you think about it – it is extra-ordinary, perverse even, - that the most potent and universally accepted symbol of the Christian Faith is the Cross – the cause of death of the Son of God – the Saviour of the world.

Yet when we witness human suffering caused by natural disaster, the evils of terrorism and war, and experience of personal pain and loss - there is no other image of God that will do - because it speaks of a God who has himself experienced pain, grief suffering and death – and because of that: can look the people of Iraq and Syria and ourselves in the eye.

Jesus has identified himself with humanity and through his death on the Cross has established his Kingdom of justice, love and peace, which He manifested in his ministry on earth and now hands on to us.

In imitation of:

The Master, who washed his disciples’ feet - as a symbol of that loving service they and we are to embody for others.

The Shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep to look for the one who was lost and who urges us to reach out to those who are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives.

The King who taught us to work and pray that his Kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven.   

The Feast of Christ the King doesn’t invite triumphalism but rather a reality check.

To see Christ reigning not from some distant throne in Heaven but from the Cross…

To face up to the pain and suffering we see in the world around us and to view them in the shadow of the Cross…

To look forward in eager expectation of the time when Christ will come again and complete the task of:

“Making peace by the Blood of the Cross”

In short to celebrate Christ as King is to enter into the deepest mysteries of our faith.

To celebrate a king and a kingdom far beyond our earthly understanding and wildest dreams – which is yet at the same time firmly rooted and grounded in the here and now, worth committing and dedicating our whole lives to – the only reality which ultimately matters and which will, praise God, endure for ever. 

 


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