The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
1 Samuel 8.4-20; John 18.33-37
There’s a good reason why, in the libraries of both Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals, there’s a copy of Magna Carta
They have a copy because the church, and especially the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, were fundamental in helping to get the agreement between King John and his barons signed. The church holds copies on behalf of the people.
You see, you have to be careful what you ask for, because you just might just get it, and then what will you do. That is clearly the message that the prophet Samuel is trying to get across to the people in our First Lesson. They wanted what their neighbours had, they wanted a king. Others have one, why can’t they? Up until this point they’d had leaders and judges, people like Moses and Joshua, but these were leaders, they were not kings. There was something very different about those who take on kingly status within a society. And we’re not talking here about constitutional monarchy, we have to forget the modern image of a modern form of monarchy such as we live with.
There’s very little comparison between our Queen and King John. A A Milne has it right in his lovely poem ‘King John’s Christmas’ from his collection ‘Now We Are Six’.
King John was not a good man --
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
Samuel sets it out, if God gives the people what they are asking for they will become subjects and so much will be asked of them and taken from them. Sadly reading the history books of the Old Testament shows that Samuel really was a prophet. Not everyone was like David, not everyone was like Solomon, and even with both of these exalted figures things were not good for everyone.
Today we celebrate Christ the King and Jesus, standing before Pilate, stripped of everything that he had, which wasn’t much, says
‘My kingdom is not from this world.’
In a short while a crown of thorns will be forced onto his head, a cloak put around his shoulders and a reed will be placed in his hand. He will stand there as a pantomime king, dressed for the part. ‘Behold your king’. A mockery of a king as far as those who dress him up are concerned, but a truly divine king for those who recognise who Jesus is.
Just as the kingdom of God is nothing like the kingdoms of this world, so Christ the King is nothing like the kings we know. Samuel was warning that with them it would be all take, but with Jesus it is all give. He came not to be served but to serve, not for others to wash his feet but for him to wash theirs. He came not on the horse of the warrior but on the donkey of the person of peace. Jesus in his kingship challenges every notion we have of what a king is or does. And just as is the king, so is the kingdom.
It’s all summed up for us in the worship song that Graham Kendrick wrote and that remains so popular.
This is our God, the Servant King,
He calls us now to follow Him.
The final verse says it all
So let us learn how to serve,
And in our lives enthrone Him;
Each other’s needs to prefer,
For it is Christ we’re serving.
This is the king of the kingdom we seek, this is the king of the kingdom we serve and as citizens of that kingdom we live as we witness a king reigning from a tree, the cross a throne like no other.