Sermon – Rev. Gillian Webb
As a few of you know I celebrated a special birthday last week and I received a card which noted some of the key events on the year I was born. I would have believed that Queen Elizabeth 11 had been our monarch all my life but of course the card reminded me that this was not the case. In 1949 Clement Atlee was prime Minister and King George V1 was on the throne which makes me feel really old!
My thoughts have turned to Royal matters as the theme of today’s service is Christ the King. Probably in my lifetime we shall have a King again when the Queen dies and Charles ascends the throne. Now many people have their own opinions on the institution of Royalty: some respect and admire it and count us a lucky country to still have a monarch while others feel it is outdated and past its sell by date. I do not propose to consider the rights and wrongs of either stance but I believe as the situation stands we can together consider what qualities we might look for in a new King. What would we really like to see and what would we want to positively discourage?
History teaches us that Kings and Queens who lived lavishly while their subjects have struggled in poverty have sometimes come to a sticky end. Previous sovereigns have won respect and loyalty by riding to war with their subjects and defending the realm with courage but our 21st century presents different challenges.
Do we want a royal family that connects and engages with the lives we live amongst our families; do we want them to be more like us? Or do we want something different? Do we want them to earn their keep and to be answerable to the public purse? Have far do we want them to be involved in the political landscape? In recent times events have shaped changes within our Royal family in order to reflect the changing nature of our times and our diverse culture. This process will certainly be of special importance when King Charles succeeds his mother.
I am sure the media will be buzzing with comments, ideas, and opinions both positive and negative when this event comes about. Groups will share their hopes and fears for the future and what it might bring and this connects us with the theme today here in church.
God’s people in the Old Testament had not always had happy experiences with kings: Saul had started so well and then anger and jealousy warped his mind and his reign ended very badly indeed. In 2 Kings Chapter 15 you can find a brief mention of some of the Kings who reigned over the kingdoms. We are told how long they reigned and whether they did what was right in the sight of the Lord or whether they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and sadly the latter seemed to be the order of the day. Good intentions did not always bear the fruit of righteousness.
King David was not always as ethically pure as he might have been but the people looked back on his reign fondly and hoped that one day God would grant to them a King that would preserve and prosper the people just as David had done.
This was especially true in the days of Jesus’ ministry. The people were so tired of being bullied by Rome and living under their cruel rule. They longed for peace, for tranquillity and stability. They wanted to hold their heads high and be a proud nation again. Only those who have suffered so much violence and fear can truly understand the yearnings for the blessings of peace.
I recently came across this prayer written by a Jewish prisoner in Cologne:
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when I cannot feel it.
I believe in God even when he is silent.
I believe this could have been the prayer for the Jews in first century Palestine. They believed God would act and they were impatient for that day to come. It would not have been difficult for Jesus to take this mantle of expectation upon himself: to be the King they longed for. Even his own disciples were hoping he would become the Messiah they longed for. From the evidence of his entry into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday there were many people who would have rallied to his cry for support for his Kingship.
They would have believed-he can do it. He is a holy man, he will love and care for his people. He will tread evil and oppression under his foot. He will be righteous in the sight of God. He will make us proud again and we will rally to his teaching and embrace his kingdom and the pagan will be driven from our lands. But Jesus had resisted this temptation very early in his ministry. He knew that kind of kingship could only be established by bloodshed. The Romans would not quietly leave without a fight and this was not the way of God’s King. Jesus was bringing a new model of God’s kingdom and it was not one people could easily understand or embrace. Even his friends were slow to get it.
In the passion narratives of our gospels Jesus is addressed and questioned about being a King. Pilate asks him ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ and the sign above his cross mockingly states ‘This is the King of the Jews’. Now at last Jesus is able to fully display the truth about his kingship and the kingdom that he would establish in his name.
All his teaching and healing would now begin to make more sense to his troubled followers. They had thought King Jesus would be remembered by his people as King David before him but now they know Jesus would be remembered forever as King of this world and the world to come. Even the last act of Jesus on earth was one of forgiveness; as he hung in agony he showed pity and compassion on the man dying alongside him promising him a place in Paradise with him that very day.
There were no words of comfort or solace for this King but he granted it to another. We walk in the steps of our King and we do well to remember the example he has given in his humility and kindness. It shames our pride and love of position and status; it gives us cause to strive through God’s grace to imitate his generosity within our fellowship and beyond it. Let us pray that God will stir up our hearts to embrace his kingdom and to live lives that will enable that kingdom to be more fully established in our world.