The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been? I've been to London to visit the Queen. Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there? I frightened a little mouse under her chair.
I was in the Abbey on Monday for a meeting and before we began the Dean took us all into the church to view the David Hockney window which was installed to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen. It’s certainly bright and definitely colourful. One of my enduring memories will be of The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh joining us here so that she could see our own Diamond Jubilee window in the Retrochoir. I escorted her there and showed her our colourful but more restrained glass – but as lovely as it is the show was stolen, as ever, by the cat, by Doorkins. She was typically laid out on the chair near the window, fast asleep, oblivious to all the royal attention she was receiving. That old nursery rhyme came to mind!
The images that we all have of monarchy, our notions of kingship, derive from The Queen. Many of us here will’ve had no experience of any other monarch sitting on the throne of this land and, in many ways, globally, our Queen has become the symbol of monarchy for very many people.
Today is the Feast of Christ the King, and one of the two patronal festivals of the Cathedral. We’re blessed with a dual dedication, St Saviour and St Mary Overie. Mary, Our Lady, we celebrate on her birthday in September; Jesus, Our Saviour, St Saviour, we celebrate today. And in the great screen behind me we see the two imagined and rather garishly picked out in gold, celebrating their patronage. Mary is shown holding Jesus as a baby, but above her is Christ seated in majesty in an image derived from our own conceptions of what a king is like.
The First Lesson took us to the glorious and extravagant Babylonian court. The Book of Daniel, from which it came, is the story of Israel in exile and the role of some of those who, though in captivity, were part of the royal retinue and trusted contributors and advisors. Belshazzar’s feast is a well known story, seated in the presence of the thousand, using the sacred vessels taken from the plundered Temple in Jerusalem for his lords, his wives, and his concubines to drink from. Then the hand appears and begins writing on the wall and the king goes pale.
The days of his kingship were numbered. But the reading also mentioned, in rather dismissive language it has to be admitted, the nature of the gods being worshipped at that feast. As Daniel will say to them
You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honoured.
The Second Lesson was the story of a very different kind of king and a very different experience of God. At the end of the reading we were told this
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When the five thousand gathered around Jesus it was clear that they were hungry. Jesus fed them on that hillside with his teaching, he fed their spiritual hunger, but he also satisfied their physical hunger with the bread and the fish. It’s little wonder that they wanted to make him their king, to take him by force and to place him on the throne. This was the kind of king they were looking for, had been looking for, the messianic king, who wouldn’t be in the pocket of their Roman oppressors, who would stir their hearts and fill their bellies, who’d be like kings are meant to be, who they’d be happy to be subject to.
But Jesus isn’t that kind of king, and God is not like the gods to whom Belshazzar drinks.
They would come by force and enthrone Jesus, but it would be soldiers doing it, not as part of a coup but to arrest him. His throne would be a cross and he’d be derided and abused, not honoured, as he was upon it. We meet God in flesh and not in silver or gold, in bronze, iron, wood, and stone. We’re citizens of a kingdom that’s not of this world, as Jesus, Christ our King said as he stood, crowned with thorns, before Pilate.
Our king, our God, is one and the same and the trappings of earthly kingship do not reflect what is the truth, what we know of the one who’s drawn people to himself, who’s drawn us to this place and drawn people to this place for over 1400 years.
This afternoon we’re celebrating our volunteers. There are over 500 of you, generously giving of your time and skills and energy and passion to enable the ministry here. But whether you’re a volunteer, or whether you’re not, I hope that the commitment is the same, to reveal here something of the nature of the kingdom of which Christ is king.
The poet R S Thomas wrote a poem called ‘The Kingdom’. It paints a very different picture to that of Belshazzar’s feast because the kingdom we’re seeking to reveal is very different.
It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only, and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.
The boy brings fish and bread, a simple, meagre offering, from a volunteer, and Jesus took it and blessed it. Your simple offering, your generous offering, whatever that might be, helps us to reveal that inclusive, faithful, radical community we seek to be, that hillside on which all are fed, that place where God is known and worshipped, the sign of the cross, our king’s throne in the heart of this community and in the service of this city and diocese.