Today we celebrate Christ the King. This is the final Sunday of the liturgical year; the culmination before we begin again with Advent.
Pope Pius the tenth instituted in the Catholic church the feast of Christ the King with these words
“If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.”
When you first think about Christ as King it seems wrong to have as our Gospel reading Luke’s crucifixion narrative would it not be better to use a resurrection appearance or perhaps the end of Matthew’s Gospel where before he commissions the disciples he tells them “I have been given all authority on heaven and earth” (Matthew 28 v 18). Or even in Revelation where John has a vision of Christ who says “I am the living one I was dead but now I am alive for ever and ever. I have authority over death and the world of the dead.” (Revelation 1 v18) when John saw him, he fell down at his feet like a dead man.
However, when you stop for a moment you realise that this is the pivotal point. This is when everything changed and the establishment of God living with his people in a new and profound way. This is contrary and completely opposite to what we think and currently experience about kingship and authority; this is usually someone wielding power for personal gain and sometimes with no thought at all for anyone else, putting themselves above all others. You do not have to look far to see this and the lengths people go to; to preserve their position.
Christ our King and his kingdom are very different willing to be rejected and suffer and not to return violence with violence not to curse but to pray for forgiveness. To give hope. This is God’s upside down or is it; right way up way of acting and moving in his world. This suffering must happen and is a constant theme throughout all of scripture.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of discipleship expands on this suffering of Christ saying “Jesus must therefore make it clear beyond all doubt that the must of suffering applies to his disciples no less than to himself. Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection and crucifixion. Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross.”
We are free to choose or reject; to take up our cross or not; to abandon attachments or not; to be prepared to suffer or not. To surrender to Christ or not. Each of us will tread a different path; have a different cross to bear. For Bonhoeffer who was a Lutheran pastor he was convinced that as a Christian he should work for Hitler’s defeat. This resulted in his arrest and eventual execution by hanging in April 1945.
For us where we are now it will not mean something like that. The early disciples were slow to grasp this concept or were fixed in their way of thinking and could not contemplate it. I suspect we are no different. If pressed I’m sure we would rather settle for an easy life.
Anthony De Mello who was an Indian Jesuit priest in his book of meditations says to us “Here is a simple truth of life that most people never discover. Happy events make life delightful but they do not lead to self-discovery and growth and freedom. That privilege is reserved to the things and persons and situations that cause us pain. Every painful event contains in itself a seed of growth and liberation.” He then invites us to think about an event we were not grateful for, about the feelings it caused to consider whether it is teaching us something we might not know about ourselves. To accept the challenge offered for self-discovery and growth and freedom. What are these negative emotions? Anxiety, insecurity, jealousy, anger or guilt? What are they telling us about ourselves, our values, our way of perceiving the world and life? If we can discover these and find our way; then it may enable us to change a distorted perception or false belief or let go of an illusion we have clung to. It may set us free to surrender something more of ourselves to Christ.
It is not just in the crucifixion narrative that you encounter this different way of kingdom. Jesus lived and demonstrated it all the time he was with the disciples. Think about the people he had time for, the people he mixed with, the parables he told, the healings he performed and his more direct teaching. What about the beatitudes, happy are those who are merciful, happy are those who work for peace, happy are those who are humble, (Matthew 5 v3-11) some of which is echoed in our Old Testament reading from Jeremiah.
If we are to follow our King then this is the template we should look to.
Dave Tomlinson in his book How to be a bad Christian tells a story about a particular funeral he had agreed to take.
It was for a lady called Carol who was a feisty 45-year-old non-conformist who grew up in a sleepy village in Bedfordshire but had moved to London. She was a heavy drinker and had developed a heroin addiction. When he spoke to her father on the telephone, he couldn’t tell him a lot about his daughters’ life, he knew her as a rebellious teenager, a substance abuser and a misfit. He was aware she lived in London and worked in a charity shop but that was about it. They did not expect a more than three or four people at the crematorium. This saddened Dave.
However, as he arrived at the crematorium the next day, he noticed about 40 people standing a little way from the building chatting and rolling cigarettes. The funeral cars were not due to arrive until a little bit later so he decided to go and chat with the group. They were all Carol’s friends and within a few minutes he had a completely different picture and a different story to tell.
They were mostly all volunteer workers in charity shops in North London, unconventional types but they eulogised Carol. One man in his early thirties with spikey black hair a tattooed face and many piercings said most of them had problems but that Carol was like a mother to them. She gathered them in and looked after them. Another who was her shop manager asked to speak at the service where he talked movingly about her maternal qualities. “The charity shops are our families he said. A lot of us had mental health issues but we’ve found a community where we can belong. Carol, he said, was the heartbeat of this family and she looked after everyone.
Carol’s parents were mild mannered middle-class folk who thought they knew their daughter an alcoholic and drug addict but they now heard about a completely different woman. Someone who was wonderful and part of a loving family.
When it was all over, he drove home feeling that he had buried a broken Christ-figure.
Christ’s passion was for the kingdom of God: a vision of what the world would look like if God were king instead of the rulers and politicians. But he didn’t try to introduce the kingdom by way of political strategy or programme but rather he went about spreading a culture of hope and compassion and healing among ordinary people. He broke down prejudice and social barriers and empowered the poor and the marginalised not to turn them into a militant force to overthrow but to generate loving community.
That’s what Carol did, although she may not have realised, she was a servant of God who in her own modest unselfconscious way changed the world immediately around her; those she was in contact with who were wounded.
Carol didn’t set out to change the world she just did what came naturally to her in each situation she found herself in.
So, if we are intent on following our King and letting our passion be for the kingdom of God then there are some things that we might like to think about.
- Don’t try to change the world – be true to yourself.
Last week Claire spoke about the three S’s silence solitude and stillness. If we are to be ourselves, we need to spend time finding out who we are and who we want to be in the world. I know when I go away on silent retreat my perspective on life changes, at least for a while. Jesus did it in the wilderness so should we; then we will act from our deepest and best instincts. Doing this will change the world because those around you will change.
- Commit to compassion.
This isn’t feeling sorry for someone but a commitment to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, to feel their pain or enter generously their point of view. Love your neighbour as yourself! Compassion arises from an openness of heart, a willingness to understand other people’s pain, to listen to their hurt and share in their distress. In the business world in which I work it is very results driven and people are pushed hard and I have to remember daily to understand and support those who are feeling the strain.
- Join with others in seeking to promote justice and peace in the world.
God relies on us to help him make the world a better place. Give thanks that there are many working to combat poverty and disease, feeding the hungry and liberating the oppressed. However, the needs are great and unending.
- Attend to the present moment.
Pay attention! Be present in the moment. Listen to God’s voice in the needs of those around you and act if necessary. Don’t spend too much time worrying and wishing you had done more in the past or thinking about what you might do in the future God has given you no control over those but you can affect the now. This is something I have to keep telling myself; as a reflective introvert I am always replaying or planning things in my mind and a lot of the time it does me no good.
- Overcome evil with good.
To act counter intuitively; where there is hatred act out of humility; where there is despair find acts of ingenuity; where there is fear find acts of self-reliance. Acts of love peace and forgiveness will create waves and reverberations however invisible and anonymous they may be.
- Look for Christ in the world.
There are many times, places and moments when God appears afresh in our world. None of these eclipses the unique revelation of God in Jesus but look out for God to show up in the most surprising places and through the most unexpected people; and even you and me! I must remember not to be too narrow in my thinking and limit what God maybe trying to do
In his book Dave Tomlinson relates acting in this way to the butterfly effect. This is the theory that a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil and sets off a tornado in Texas. This is the recognition that decisions and actions we as individuals take no matter how small can have a role in determining the outcome of the lives of others. So, if we beat our wings in this way; things can change and God’s kingdom will increase.