Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson
Earlier this week I went to see the exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs.
It’s a period of history that I’ve always been fascinated with and the exhibition is well worth a visit. There is an incredible painting entitled, The Family of Queen Victoria which was painted in 1887 to mark her Golden Jubilee. It shows the elderly queen surrounded by her relatives who constituted most of the crowned heads of Europe. To further strengthen these blood ties, she actively encouraged her grandchildren to marry into the royal houses of Europe. One of her granddaughters became Tsarina Alexandra when she married Tsar Nicholas II in 1894. Another painting shows their glittering Orthodox wedding in the Cathedral of the Winter Palace. It’s a sumptuous occasion where no expense was spared. It seems to be literally out of this world. The exhibition also displays one of the exquisite Faberge Easter eggs, given by the Tsar to his wife to celebrate Easter 1914. With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to see that the writing was then on the wall for the autocratic Imperial family who lived lives at odds with the majority of their subjects. The ostentatious consumption of wealth and treasures turned to dust some three years later as the Imperial family were killed in a cellar, following the Tsar’s abdication in 1917.
Also this week, I accompanied Lisa our Education Officer who was leading Collective Worship at Cathedral School. She asked the children what they thought of kings. One pupil suggested that kings might suffer from a bit of attitude, imagining that they were better than those around them. Another suggested that although kings might have great riches and wealth they might not have many friends. They were perceptive comments and I couldn’t help thinking about the fate of the Romanovs.
In our gospel reading this morning we hear a conversation between Pilate and Jesus in the run up to his crucifixion. Pilate questions Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He wants to know if Jesus belongs to the Jewish nation. Does he claim to be their king? Jesus responds that his kingdom is not geographical or political, and that his followers belong to a kingdom that is not defined by earthly boundaries, concerns or rulers. He reinterprets the meaning of a kingdom and what it means to be a king. It is not of this world but is present in those who do the will of God, ‘those who listen to his voice.’ Jesus is the very embodiment of God’s kingdom breaking into the world of Pilate; into our world. Jesus underlines that his kingdom ‘is not of this world’ because power, fear and force is required to preserve it. Jesus’ kingdom is not founded on power nor force but rather on love, justice, truth and hope.
Today we celebrate our patronal festival, celebrating all that our community stands for. We are called to be kingdom people, seeking to live the way of God and the values of God’s kingdom. But what does it mean to belong?
Today we are delighted that 9 young people from our community will be admitted to Holy Communion, receiving this Sacrament for the first time. Too often I hear young people being described as the church of tomorrow. That couldn’t be further from the truth for they are disciples in Christ’s church today, just as much as we are, and they have a voice which we would do well to listen to. During our preparation for today we celebrated the Eucharist and instead of a sermon I asked our young friends what the gospel reading of the day meant to them, how did they interpret the words and actions of Jesus and what difference would it make to their lives. They came out with some amazingly mature and insightful comments. If Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs,’ then that is referring to them and they have a voice and place in the Cathedral community. They also talked about the need to show God’s love in the world by taking care of the homeless and the vulnerable.
I went away proud to be a part of this community where we can value the contribution and learn from our younger members, fellow disciples in the way of Christ.
As we all reflect on what it means to be part of this Cathedral community, young and old, I’d like to encourage you to come to the congregational meetings next Sunday. After the 9am and 11am Eucharists members of Chapter will be presenting the vision and priorities which we have identified for the coming year. It’s called the Masterplan, and whilst it sounds like something from James Bond’s Dr No, it is the fruit of much work and discussions to distil into a document what it might mean to belong to Southwark Cathedral and how we can enrich our worship, mission and witness over the coming years. Please do make it a date to hear about the plans. This isn’t simply for the keen people among us; it’s for everyone. Copies of the Masterplan will be available on the day and on our website.
This feast of Christ the King turns upside down our earthly notions of kingship - of Winter Palaces, Faberge eggs, golden crowns and the whole panoply of court life. The kingship of Christ calls for a response from us as disciples, whereby our decision making, our life together and our values have Christ the servant king at their heart. As a Cathedral community and as people of faith we are invited to put Christ at the centre of all that we do and seek to achieve. Are we willing to allow Christ to change us, and to enable our lives to increasingly reflect the divine image? There is a saying that the Body of Christ eats the Body of Christ and becomes the Body of Christ. On first hearing that might be hard to get your head around. But this is what I believe it means. Today we admit our young people who are valued members of the church, the Body of Christ, to participate in sharing the food of heaven, the Body of Christ, and when they and we do so, we reflect the truth of Jesus and become more like the Body of Christ. And if that is true, then we are compelled to listen to the voice of our young people and their experience of God touching their hearts and lives for there is much that we can learn from them and with them.
We at Southwark Cathedral pride ourselves on being an open and inclusive community of faith where all can ask questions, be valued as we are and encounter the living God. As we celebrate this feast of Christ the King, may we delight in one another’s contribution to our common life and resolve to be channels of God’s love and grace in our needy world.