The Rev'd Michael Rawson, Sub Dean and Canon Pastor
Over the past three months we have perhaps become ever more familiar with the pomp and solemnity of state events with the proclamation of King Charles III and the funeral of Her Late Majesty the Queen. Memories of the seemingly endless stream of people paying their respects in Westminster Hall will live on in many hearts and minds.
On Her Late Majesty’s coffin lay the symbols of monarchy, the orb and sceptre and crown. Here was the very essence of worldly power, albeit that of a constitutional monarch. Speculation has already begun about the Coronation of King Charles next May and what form it will take. We are told it will be a blend of the ancient but also reflecting the diversity of modern-day Britain.
I wonder what comes into your mind when monarchy and kingship is discussed?
Today, as the Christian year comes to an end we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, one of our patronal festivals at the Cathedral. Today we honour Christ, the King of the Universe. On the front of today’s order of service is a beautiful mosaic from Ravenna. Here we see a majestic Christ, modelled on earthly rulers.
The Orthodox Church venerates an icon entitled ‘The King of Glory’ which could not be more different. Echoing this morning’s gospel reading, this king is bruised and battered from being scourged prior to crucifixion, wearing a scarlet cloak over his shoulders, hands tied at the wrists, the crown of thorns on his head, and a long reed in one hand.
As we honour Christ as our King we perhaps need to put to one side our stereotypical images of royalty that we are so familiar with. Today’s celebration is of a radically different monarch. For ours is a very strange king who gives himself away totally, in complete vulnerability on the cross. He was not out to conquer but to bring souls to his heavenly Father. He did not allow others to serve him, but rather he came as a servant himself, the lowest of the low, washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. He laid aside his heavenly glory and majesty, becoming poor so that others might become rich. He gave all that he had in searching out the poor, the outcast, the lost and the sick. Ultimately, he gave his life for those he loved, by offering up his life on the cross.
Today's gospel reading gives us a partial look at the events of the first Good Friday. Jesus has been nailed on the cross and the religious leaders and soldiers are trying to humiliate him even further. They despised him because they had missed the point about kingship, supposing that he was like an earthly king who had armies and ruled by strength and power. But our God turns the whole world upside down with all our preconceived ideas. Here is a king whose rule comes through vulnerability, self-emptying and humble service.
Vulnerability is seen as a sign of weakness today, as it was as Jesus hung on the cross. And in many ways Jesus was powerless with those who abused and railed against him on that Good Friday. He could do little for the crowd who seem to be there out of curiosity and maybe pity. Neither could he do much for the soldiers and the leaders, for their hearts were like stone and their ears closed. The same was true for one of the thieves. But the other thief was different. His heart was still open and he recognised he was desperately poor and needed God. He reached out to Christ in his need and poverty, and Christ blessed him with the gift of paradise.
In our first reading we heard a contrasting message about those shepherds who destroyed and scattered the sheep with those shepherds who will be raised up so that the sheep will not fear, nor be lost nor be dismayed. Christ the Good Shepherd is the one who searches out the lost and does so until he discovers them. Christ offers to the thief a message of consolation, of hope and peace. There is the same message of forgiveness in the story of the prodigal son and the forgiving father and when he intervenes with the woman who is about to be stoned to death. Christ’s ministry on earth embodied the values of God’s kingdom and was good news to the marginalised, the downtrodden and the voiceless. All of them were given places of honour and respect at the banquet of the kingdom. And that’s precisely why the religious and political rulers of his day were threatened and were determined to silence Jesus.
Today [at the 11am Choral Eucharist] we celebrate two young members of our Cathedral community, Belen and Dev, being admitted to Holy Communion – a foretaste on earth of the heavenly banquet. God knows Belen and Dev by name, loves them and rejoices in them and this exciting step on their journey of faith they are making today. We rejoice too as they draw closer to the heart of God and God’s church by sharing in this Sacrament’’.
On our patronal festival today we celebrate the part we can all play in bringing about the kingdom of God in our place and in this period of history.
Today’s Eucharistic prayer talks about God’s kingdom as a kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, love and peace. These are the hallmarks of our life together as individuals and as the church. To answer Christ's call to be co-workers in the kingdom we need to allow him to be king in our hearts, to move ourselves out of the central position and enthrone him in our hearts. As a church we can often get our wires crossed, especially when we talk of mission and evangelism. We talk as though we must do it in our own strength and that we must do things. That has its place, but it is secondary. Becoming one of Christ's messengers is not so much about doing extra things, as being more Christlike. It's the quality of our lives and living out kingdom values that will convert others to Christ, rather than 1001 things that we do.
If we were to stop rushing around quite so much, often getting nowhere fast, and simply open our lives and hearts to God, allowing Christ to be King of our hearts and serving Christ in our neighbour then the Kingdom of God might be one step closer.