Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; John 18:33-37
Sunday of Christ the king
St Barbara’s 25.11.2018
Rev Tulo Raistrick
One of the things I love most about mountain walking is getting to the top of the final hill for the day and looking back, being able to retrace the walk: the woods and valleys we had walked through, the other mountain tops we had climbed. For others I have walked with, and I think particularly of my mum and my oldest brother, they love the detail – the beauty of individual flowers, or the patterns of frost on the ground. But for me, I love the big vista.
The same is true of reading a novel. If its a novel I have really enjoyed I like to go back over the story-line in my mind, re-living the key moments. For others, they may instead choose to re-visit a particularly purple passage of prose that stood out for them.
Maybe that’s why I particularly love this day in the church’s calendar, a day which we know as Christ the King, the last Sunday before we start the new church year at the beginning of Advent. Its a day for both looking back and looking forwards and seeing the big vista, seeing the whole story-line of God’s work among us.
For the last twelve months we have been journeying through the Christian story. We began in December last year preparing ourselves for the celebration of the most extraordinary event – the coming of God’s Son among us in the form of a vulnerable human baby. Into Epiphany, after Christmas, we began to see God revealing Christ to us through the early stages of his ministry. And then through Lent, we travelled with Christ through his temptations in the wilderness as we prepared for his trials and death on the cross, before bursting into resurrection life, and the birth of the church and the giving of his spirit in Pentecost. For the last few months, we have immersed ourselves in the teaching and miracles of Jesus, as week on week we have heard the gospel read.
Well, today is in many respects the culmination of that journey, before we ready ourselves to travel that road again. Today we remind ourselves of who Christ is, who is the one at the heart of this story, who is the one at the centre of our lives, and what that means for each one of us.
Our Gospel reading contrasts two kinds of authority, two kinds of kingship, the authority and power of the Roman empire as represented by Pilate, and the authority and power of God as represented in Christ.
Our conception of kingship is quite different from what it was back in Jesus’ day. I was interested to hear Prince Charles being interviewed the other day on the advent of his 70th birthday. During the interview, he said that if he were to become king he would refrain from lobbying government on some of his favourite political causes. One could almost hear the audible sigh of relief from government offices. We do not expect our monarchs to shape and influence politics in such a way. But that is the total opposite of how kingship was conceived two thousand years ago. Back in Jesus’ day, kings or emperors were the ultimate power: they were the monarch, prime minister, active head of the armed forces, legislator and high court judge, all rolled into one. Their authority was without limit; their power absolute. The word of a king or emperor, or his representative such as Pilate, was law, and woe betide those who stood against it.
For many in today’s world, that is still the ultimate conception of power, and one for which many strive. Whether in government, in the workplace, in the community, in the home, dare I say it, even occasionally in the church, people strive for power, to get their will imposed on others, to ensure their view wins out, regardless of the consequences for others.
No wonder Pilate’s scornful question of Jesus: “Are you the king of the Jews?” How could this poorly dressed and beaten man, from the wrong part of the country, with just a handful of followers, all of whom had now deserted him, how could this man assert authority and power over others? It was a fair question, if Pilate’s idea of power was all that there was.
But Jesus’ response points to a deeper truth. His response is often translated: “My kingdom is not of this world” implying that he is king of an other-worldly, spiritual kingdom, that does not touch upon the day-to-day realities of life. But a truer translation is “My kingdom is not from this world.” In other words, Jesus’ kingdom does not originate from a world where the purpose of authority is to control and command, to enforce and impel. His kingdom, his authority, comes from a different source, from God Almighty, who chooses not the way of force but of love, who chooses not the way of compulsion but of choice, who chooses to send his son into the world as a vulnerable baby not as a conquering hero, who chooses to wash the feet of his friends as a lowly slave, not to be waited on for his every need by an army of servants. Look over the story of Christ that has been told over this last year and time and time again we see a Christ who shows us a different kind of kingdom, a kingdom of love, service, sacrifice, grace, a kingdom where the poor and excluded are brought into the centre, where children and widows are heard and valued, a kingdom of love.
And that kingdom, though it is not from this world, is most certainly for this world. Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” He invites us to be a part of declaring and living out his kingship today.
Let me share with you an inspiring example of what that means. The first was reported by The Guardian six years ago: “Dr Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist, has become the main source of hope for thousands living in eastern Congo. He has stayed in a war-zone for 14 years and practised medicine with bare medical resources and witnessed the utterly horrific effects of rape on women. In that time he has operated on over 30,000 rape victims, helping to heal some of their terrible injuries. He has done this and has been the head pastor of his church and a teacher and a fundraiser and a mentor of hundreds of doctors and the head of a foundation responsible for opening justice centres. Everything he does, he does with dignity, kindness and composure.” He is not famous; he is not powerful or wealthy; but through his acts of love and sacrifice and compassion, he is part of a kingdom that will last for ever.
We have the most wonderful privilege as Christians to be part of God’s work of bringing love and grace into the world and into the lives of those around us, into our homes, our communities, our workplaces, our families. That may not mean working in a Congolese hospital, but it does mean looking to be ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom, living with love and compassion. To proclaim his kingdom. To live out his love. I wonder what God may be calling you to do this day?
But our big vista does not just show us a picture of what is emerging, of the kingdom of God that is growing among us. It also gives us a view of the future to come, of the time when God’s kingdom of love and grace will be the only kingdom, when kingdoms governed by greed or malice or thirst for power, will crumble and fall.
Our reading from the prophet Daniel gives us such a glimpse. For a time will come when all people, people from every language and nation, will worship him. It will be a kingdom that will never end. Empires will rise and fall – even the Roman empire of Jesus’ day did eventually – but the kingdom of Christ will never fall.
We are part of God’s kingdom, a kingdom of hope and life, of goodness and truth, and that kingdom will prevail. As we come to the end of this church year, and look forward to the next, we can know that the future is in God’s hands.
Whether we feel we are coming towards the end part of our lives, and wondering what will be next, or whether we feel we are at the beginning or middle of our lives, and wondering what the future will hold, we can take hope: Christ is king; his kingdom is among us; and one day, his kingdom will be here on earth as it is in heaven.