Sunday 24th November 2019
Jeremiah Chapter 23 v 1 – 6 Colossians Chapter 1 v 11 – 20
Luke Chapter 23 v 33 – 43
Christ the King
Downton Abbey, the much-beloved television series, recently came out with a feature-length movie. The entire plot was based on Downton Abbey preparing for and having a 24-hour visit from the King and Queen. I’m sure there can’t be many of us unfamiliar with the series. Downton Abbey is a large country manor that houses “upstairs” nobility, in the form of an Earl and his wife whose resources are dwindling, and the “downstairs” servants, with various social ranks from the butler down to the carriage footmen. The series focuses on two groups who are bound to each other through strict hierarchical social rules, the “upstairs” family and others of their aristocratic class and the “downstairs” servants. I know where I would be!!!
For about two hours, we get to see all the drama and fuss the Abbey went through to put on airs, to be seen as “good enough” for the visit. From the Earl down to a local shopkeeper, everyone believed that this visit from royalty--- signified great honour, no matter how brief. Everyone wanted to gaze at the royalty and impress them. We associate royalty with power, treat members of that class deferentially (at least on the surface), and fantasize about their privilege and glamour, gawking over the size of the princess’ ring or how the royals dress their children.
There are a few Gospel passages that would pair better with our assumptions about royalty than what we read today – like Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with crowds shouting “Hosanna”, or the visit from three kings following his birth, or even one of the resurrection appearances in which Jesus does miraculous things like walking through locked doors
Each of us has our own celebration days – wedding anniversaries – graduation days – passing our driving test and of course our birthday. It’s a day when we celebrate being alive, cards, flowers, gifts, a special meal and ‘phone calls tell us that our friends and families are glad to know us and that we make a difference to their lives.
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. We celebrate the Christ who has risen- ascended and glorified. We give thanks to God for all he has done for us through Jesus and for the difference Jesus makes to our lives.
We celebrate the Kingship of Christ but what sort of Kingship is it that we’re celebrating? Our Gospel reading gives us a vivid picture to reflect on.
The picture is certainly not what we would expect to see illustrating kingship, power and authority. Here are no fine robes but a naked and scarred body. His crown has no jewels, only vicious thorns. On his hands there are no rings of power, just the nails which fix him to a wooden cross – no golden throne. There are no courtiers or servants around him – just two criminals sharing his fate and an assorted crowd of soldiers and ghoulish spectators who taunt and mock him.
But before we turn away from this ghastly picture of cruelty and humiliation we see the words “This is the King of the Jews” and we hear the voice of an unlikely believer “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Someone here has caught a glimpse of the glory that is hidden by the awfulness of this torture. And we hear another voice, the voice of authority coming from the defeat of the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”.
We heard the voices of mockery and hate. Now we hear the voices of faith and compassion and it makes us stop and wonder.
Is it possible that in this picture we are getting a glimpse of the sort of kingship that can meet our deepest inner needs, the needs we sometimes daren’t even face ourselves and which certainly aren’t met by the rulers of this world
Here is a King who is prepared to suffer alongside us. This is not a King who holds himself aloof from ordinary folk. This is a King who experiences betrayal, savage injustice, brutal cruelty and utter humiliation and yet maintains his dignity and integrity. This is a King who has lived life as we live it, who has died as we must die but who now lives a new resurrection life. He reassures us and welcomes us into that same resurrection life in his Kingdom where we will know the peace and healing for which we have longed.
The picture of Kingship in our Gospel story turns traditional kingship upside down. It reaches out to us calling us to offer ourselves to Christ the King and we can perhaps sense what a difference this would make to our lives.
Next week we will begin again to tell the story of the coming of Jesus into the world as a baby and we will again start looking forward to Jesus returning as Christ the King. As we journey through the year, hearing again the stories of Jesus’ birth and life, his ministry and teaching, his death and resurrection we too will be travelling on our own journeys. We too will go through wilderness times of doubt and anxiety. We may enter the Gethsemane of anguish and despair we will have mountain top experiences of excitement and good news. We will plod along through the everyday life of ordinary times.
As we travel we will also have a companion alongside us and a vision to give meaning and purpose to our lives. Our companion will be Christ the Son of Man who knows what it is to be human and who will show understanding and compassion when the going gets tough. His presence will make all the difference when we feel most alone and isolated. Our vision will be that of love’s victory over death and of Christ the King who will draw us into his eternal kingdom. His kingship will make all the difference when things seem out of control, chaotic and heading from bad to worse.
Today we celebrate the eternal presence of Christ the King in bread and wine. Let us pray that his spirit will make a difference in our lives bringing us refreshment, peace, the power of love and whatever else our hearts need for the journey that lies ahead.
We are about to enter the season of Advent: four weeks of preparation to receive our king. What does it look like for us to prepare? It probably isn’t much like Downton Abbey’s preparation for a visitation from on high – it doesn’t involve polishing a lot of silver, or obsessing about how our house looks before we invite friends in, or worrying about finding the most unique, hand-crafted, artisan, ecologically-responsible, fair-traded, beautifully presented gift for our loved ones.
No, we are preparing for a visit from royalty who always greets us with forgiveness, acceptance, and love, a visit from a king who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death on a cross. A king who prefers the company of the lost, the lonely the least loved and the last. A king who can hear the cry of the criminal and the cry of desperation: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” A king who promises from the cross, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”