s201e01 Lockleys 25/11/01 Sunday 34 Christ the King
May you be made strong ... making peace through the blood of his cross. Col 1.11,20
Today is the feast of Christ the King and it marks the end of the cycle of lessons which we began with another celebration - the feast of the Holy Trinity. The liturgical year is divided into two, the period from Advent to Pentecost, where the salvation history of Jesus' earthly ministry is recounted, and the second half of the year - Trinity Sunday and the Sunday's after, where the teaching of Jesus is highlighted. Hence the modern custom of finishing this time with a celebration, focussing on Jesus as King, as we began by celebrating God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Many years ago I recall being told that the parables of Jesus do not stand alone - isolated stories which are open to independent interpretation. No, in this person's view, the parables are intimately linked to the defining event of Jesus' ministry, the death and resurrection on the Cross. And so the parables of the seed and the soil were understood by the gospel writers as allegories of the mysterious nature of the cross, where big things from little things grow. In this perception, the Cross of Jesus was a particularly infelicitous image on which to base faith, and the gospel writers naturally recalled and passed on any of Jesus' words which would help their hearers over this hurdle of seeming total failure. I have considerable sympathy with the view that all the parables should be interpreted in the light of the Cross, for clearly the Cross and resurrection was the defining event of our faith. Everything should be interpreted in the light of Good Friday and Easter.
Yet I have some reserve, for I wonder if there is not an element of hoping beyond hope. I always cringe inwardly when the funeral service has the phrase: "the consolation of your love" for while I rejoice at the prospect of God wiping "away every tear", this has an element that God's love is the consolation prize, when one has lost one's real love ...
We want Jesus to be successful, much like St Peter did, and this is not an unnatural desire. We want our Church to grow and be an influence for good in society, and for it to be so, we need to be focussed, enthusiastic, committed. We need to be successful. If we can put aside for a brief moment the inglorious beginning, we can get on to do some real good ...
One of the priests in a neighbouring parish, has, I am led to understand, composed a liturgy with all the "dominion" phrases omitted, and when I have some time, I would really like to have a look at it. It sounds very interesting. For when I come to think about our services, the number of times we tell God that Jesus is our Lord, I wonder if we think that the Almighty has an advanced case of dementia, that God needs to be continually reminded of this fact :-)
But again this can easily become a way of avoiding the Cross. Our very praise of God implies a triumph, and so often when we think of triumph, we automatically think of a triumph over an enemy, over someone else. When we come to Church feeling despondent, sad or a failure it is tempting to think that we need to be cheered up. But God is found equally in our times of failure as God is found in our times of success.
I want to say that the Cross for me is fundamental, but as I have often had cause to reiterate, Jesus was killed by the religious people, because he associated with others and accepted their offerings. It is not that Jesus did not accept the offerings of the religious authorities - he visited the house of both Simon the Pharisee and Simon the leper - though his reception was markedly different in each case. God accepts everyone's offerings, except those which are at the expense of others. And in the Church those who don't come to Church are seen as the recalcitrant and the unbelievers who need to acknowledge God's sovereignty. As the old sign accused: "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?" I simply cannot imagine these words ever on the lips of Jesus. Jesus had a different priority, and his priority was to sit down and eat with others, and the fact that he was killed for doing precisely this, shows us the measure of resistance that some people will go to avoid following Jesus.
So God's sovereignty is never "over" others, it is always in embrace and acceptance of all others.
A while ago, I spoke about God not wanting us, or anyone, to be a possession, so all of our "dominion" type language has to be recast in the light of this fact. God does not want the whole of creation to be made up of suitably gullible and compliant automatons. If this were in fact the case then God could have created the universe in precisely this way. If we think that God wants this, then the logical outcome is that - as a creator - God is actually a spectacular failure. No, I heartily agree with the sentiment in the words of the "Desiderata": "no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should", and this implies that God respects the universe as it is, and is not forever willing it were otherwise, as so often the Church seems to want it to be. Or as I saw on the Internet a long time ago, God must love ordinary unspectacular people, for God made so many of us like this. Oh, certainly, God would not want the level of strife and contention that is about. God certainly wants peace between the peoples of the world, but "dominion" type language has historically exacerbated friction rather than diminished it.
No one at the moment can fail to see the sort of psyco-political imperialism that the Taliban regime wanted to exercise, largely at the expense of their neighbours and anyone who disagreed with them. Yet the Anglican Church of the not so distant past had a not especially dissimilar motivation, and often one hears laments that the Church of today no longer commands the respect it once did. I, for one, do not want to return to the past, certainly in this respect.
One of the things which really motivates me is that our theology has by definition to preclude a return or resurgence of any form of psycho-political imperialism over others. Our theology must never be right so that other's contributions are unnecessary or plain wrong. Just recently I was in a media forum, when the members were lamenting the fact that denominations can't seem to work together, and when someone in a denomination says something, often it is members of that person's denomination who can be the most critical. For me this points to a fundamental flaw in theology which remains exclusive and imperialistic, rather than inclusive and encouraging of others.
So when we talk in "dominion" type language it has ever to be inclusive and encouraging. And indeed the concept of kingship in the Old Testament was to particularly uphold the cause fo the widow, the orphan and the alien. So Proverbs tells the king: "Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." (31:8-9). And Jeremiah asks: "Are you a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well." (22:15,16).
One of the loveliest expressions of the Kingship of Christ, comes in the Roman Catholic missal, where the preface speaks in these terms:
You anointed Jesus Christ, your only Son, with the oil of gladness, as the eternal priest and universal king.
As priest he offered his life on the altar of the cross and redeemed the human race by this one perfect sacrifice of peace.
As King he claims dominion over all creation, that he may present to you, his almighty Father, an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.
The oil of gladness typifies so much of Jesus' outlook on ministry.
The essence of being a priest is to be a bridge between all people and God, and when people really come to appreciate the truth of the reality of "Emmanuel" - "God with us" - bridges become unnecessary and redundant. This tells us in no uncertain terms that the Cross has already redeemed, not just all Christians, but the whole human race. And the essence of this is that because Jesus was raised from the dead, the efforts of the religious authorities to stop Jesus associating with people other than the religious ones, are ever doomed to failure. So we will find the risen Jesus where he always was - out and about amongst all sorts and conditions of people - accepting the hospitality of their lives.
"The blood of his cross" is how we are to be made strong, and the blood of his cross is that which was shed because the religious authorities tried to stop Jesus associating with and accepting the contributions of others. So we too will be made strong as we too follow Jesus and accept the contributions all others make to us, in our personal lives, in the life of the corporate community of the Church, as well as the whole of society.
Links to other sites on the Web:
About the author and links.
To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.
To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.
Back to a sermon for next Sunday.