Christ The King - 4th September 2010 - The Rt Reverend Keith Newton
Gospel Reading: Luke 23
A few years ago I received in the post a flyer for a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar. ‘Easily the best version I have seen ‘said the critic in the Walsall Observer- obviously an expert in the field. In these days when we live in an increasingly secular society it is interesting that the person of Jesus still has a fascination. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ showed the power of the story still to enthral many people. Yet there is no evidence that such things lead to greater faith. On the contrary our world seems to be less and less faithful and even the Church is often in danger of moulding the gospel to suit the social mores of the day and allow public credibility to be the guiding principle in many debates. Give the world what it wants and understands and people might return to the Church some think. The evidence of the last 20 years does not suggest that this is a successful strategy. In fact a report a few years ago for the Church of Scotland, conducted by an atheistic sociologist, suggested that the Church is most effective when it emphasises its differences from the rest of the world.
You might think in times when we in the west particularly espouse democracy as the purest form of government, images such as Christ the King have little to say. Even in England where we still have a Monarchy its authority is limited and constitutional. Perhaps Christ the president would be better or in the days of pop idol, Christ the Superstar.
Yet the great Anglican preacher Austin Farrer reminds us, in one of his books, of the importance of the images given to us in revelation which are normative for our faith and which if changed or ignored could radically alter the faith we have received.
Furthermore the images Jesus uses, he often redefines so that new understandings are opened up. This is particularly true when he calls God his Father- not that God is in some way to be seen as a reflection of our understanding of Fatherhood but that the perfection of fatherhood is seen in God on which human fatherhood is to be modelled.
The same is true of Christ the King. Except for the use of the title King in the birth Narrative in St Matthews Gospel which makes Herod so concerned that he slaughters the innocents there is little use of the term in Jesus’ ministry about himself. Indeed when they wanted to take him by force and make him King in St John’s gospel after the miracle of the loaves and fishes(6:15), Jesus makes a quick get away. It is only in the same Gospel before his crucifixion that he accepts the title. ‘Yes I am a king‘ he says in answer to Pilates question. ‘I was born for this I came into the world for this; to bear witness to the truth and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice’ .John18:37
But he is a strange kind of King. He makes no claim to political power and is no threat to the Roman authorities. He has no army to defend him, his only authority is that he witnesses to the truth; to God’s revelation of himself.
It is significant that up to then he had not allowed people to pin labels on him for fear of misunderstanding. Only in this humble state facing a degrading death does he allow Pilate to call him King. The Epistle today, from the letter to the Colossians, may beautifully express his exaltation and authority over all things but it is the Cross that makes clear to us just what sort of Kingship his is and the truth of it he came to reveal.
And if you and I are to be citizen’s of his Kingdom it is along the way of the cross we must travel. For it is there that we will find the answer to the questions of our existence and the meaning of our life. From the Cross flowed the water and blood, symbols of Baptism and Eucharist and without the cross there could not have been the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. These things, the Spirit and the sacraments, enable us to embrace a life based on forgiveness and self sacrifice, obedience and love.
Christianity is a revealed religion and at the heart of that Revelation stands the Cross of Christ with Jesus reigning from it. This is not immediately attractive to many of our contemporaries. It was not easily credible in the early days so why should we be surprised that it is similarly a problem now. –
‘ Here are we preaching Christ crucified: to the Jews an obstacle they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called , whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and wisdom of God. 1Cor 1:24
We live in age with a subjective approach to religion, where people take those parts that take their fancy or make them feel good and too easily ignore those parts that are more challenging. But Christianity is not simply another way of expressing our deepest emotion and our noblest aspirations; it is a gift to be received.
It was said by some churchmen at the time of Princess Diana’s funeral that the public out pouring of grief was a sign of the latent spirituality of the nation. Sadly I thought it was just the opposite, a sign of people spiritually lost with no authentic way to express their sorrow.
Faced with such confusion amongst many, we are called to proclaim afresh and powerfully that only God can reveal himself and make clear his plan for us. The good news we carry is that he has done so in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus who is for us ‘the way the truth and the life’.
Unfortunately we are sometimes hesitant to do this, especially those who call ourselves catholic Christians. If we talk of revealed truth we are frightened of being criticised as indoctrinating. Truth we are told we discover for ourselves rather than being handed down the traditions and beliefs of the past. Children should not be baptised but allowed to make their own decision when they know all about it as though it is about gaining facts. But we don’t leave plants in our garden to make their own way in the world, we nurture them to grow well and train them to develop in the right way.
Here is the great dilemma for Christians. Are we to remain faithful to the revelation of Christ enshrined in the scriptures and in the tradition of the Church or do we go along with much contemporary thinking and accept Christianity as just one of many expressions of spiritual life which we can move in and out of as we like.
This is a very important question for us as Catholic Christian in the C of E. What is our future indeed is there any long term future for us in the Church of England. A sermon is not I believe the place to speak of these things suffice to say that we must be faithful to that we have received and if that means sacrifice, uncertainty, walking the of the cross the so be it.
The Choice is stark. Either Christ is our King or he is not. Either the scriptures are authoritative about what we believe and how we behave or they are not. Catholic Christians believe that the scriptures witness to the unique revelation of God in Christ and that the Spirit guides the Church spread around the world so that a common mind can emerge of how they can be interpreted in different cultures and Changing circumstances.
The biblical story, Christian tradition, images and metaphors stimulate and guide our imagination to fathom the depths of God revealed in Christ.
Of Course God is a Mystery and his ways will ultimately be beyond our human understanding but in the end we can only know him and enter into a relationship with him because he has taken the initiative’ because in the words of John’s Gospel
God so loved the world that he gave his only so that very one who believes in him may not be lost
But may have eternal life’ John 3:16
So as Christians we should rejoice that God has spoken in Christ and revealed his love for us. He is our Kings who deserves our total loyalty, love and service and who invites us not to self fulfilment or by some spirituality gained by our own effort but to walk with him in the way of the Cross.
To Julian of Norwich the English 14 cent Mystic our Lord showed himself in many ways but she tells us that the way he showed himself most often was as a King reigning in a man’s soul.