The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King
21 November 2010
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
What with the new Harry Potter film having been released this past Friday and my posting my 2007 Deathly Hallows sermon on Facebook, it would be tempting to lead today with the challenge to Jesus, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” I am not, however, going to take the bait. It would make a good sermon, of course, but as I was reflecting on the kingship of Christ, I realised that since the fourth of July, right at the beginning of the season after Pentecost this year, I have been building on a theme. This theme, threaded throughout a number of sermons over the past few months, is that of the folly of trusting in earthly rulers—not just kings, but presidents, prime ministers, generals, legislators and others—to lead us where God is calling.
Indeed, it was one stanza from last week’s closing hymn, “Father eternal, ruler of creation,” written by Laurence Housman just after the end of the Great War of 1914-1918 and adopted as the hymn of the League of Nations, that summed it all up for me:
Lust of possession worketh desolations:
There is no meekness in the sons of earth;
Led by no star, the rulers of the nations
Still fail to bring us to the blissful birth
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, thy will be done.
Every day in the news we are reminded of the limitless capacity of our earthly rulers to seek and serve only their narrow self interest. Each day we are reminded of their limitless capacity to look towards limited political goals centred on accumulation of power. Even when we see leaders working, in my opinion, for the greater good [please read-in no Deathly Hallows reference and you can ask me later, if you like, of whom I am thinking]; when we see leaders working for the greater good, we see their efforts thwarted at every turn and what they do achieve is often only effected by accident or the coalescing of mutual of self-interests. You may hear all this as a severe indictment of our various political systems and of our leaders, and it is. Yet, as we examine Housman's poetry, we see the crucial point, that those leaders of the nations—for him the Kaiser, the King, the Tsar, and archdukes and archduchesses by the Pullman-load—were in the end, “led by no star.” The hope for us as a civilization, as humans, lies in our ability to find the courage and strength to follow the star, follow it to Bethlehem, to the manger, to behold our true king. “O give us,” Housman writes, “brother-love for better seeing / Thy word made flesh and in a manger laid.”
On the Fourth of July, I chose an obscure hymn from The English Hymnal, set to one of those Rouen Church melodies you may have noticed that I really fancy, that put it this way
Lord of our life, and God of our salvation,
Star of our night, and hope of every nation
Hear and receive the church’s supplication,
Lord God almighty.
Lord thou canst help when earthly armour faileth,
Lord, thou canst save when deadly sin assaileth;
Christ o’er thy Rock nor death nor hell prevaileth
Grant us peace O Lord.
That child in the manger, to whom the star is pointing, to whom we are called always, but especially in this quickening time of the year, that child is the “hope of every nation.” That child, that defenceless infant swaddled in the manger whom we will meet in only a few weeks, is our armour, the "armour of light" of which next week's collect speaks, the armour that will protect us from sin and death, that will open us up, in fact, to love.
The child in the manger is the king to whom we owe our first allegiance. If we follow the star that will bring us to the manger, if we open our hearts to the love we will experience there, the love of parents for their child, of a child for his parents, a love shining into the whole world, we will realise that our king has so much more power than any earthly ruler. We will realise that his power lies in his ability to receive the love of God that lives deep within in his heart that is from his father, and that streams into him through the eyes of his mother. We will realise that his power lies in his ability to then share that love with a world full of the kind of kings I railed on about a few minutes ago.
This love, emanating from the manger, is the love we see on the cross in today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke. There on the cross, our King, our Lord, the first born of all creation, as today’s epistle reminds us, is mocked by the crowd and challenged by one criminal (tempted, if you think about it) and yet is able to hear the petition of the second criminal. Through the din of hate, Jesus hears the desire of this other man for mercy and not only does he hear his petition, he assures him that it shall be granted. When Jesus comes into his kingdom, to use the man's own words, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
This is the work of our king. On the cross, persecuted by those who hated and did not understand him, he remained generous, open to love, open to mutuality, open to the possibility of transformation and of conversion. Our king, whom we celebrate today, will give us a taste of the fulfilment of his kingdom as we shall unite our body with his in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and shall look upon and worship that body after our own Communion is accomplished. Our king shows us that our priorities are to be his priorities.
We shall, over the next few weeks have the chance to be led by a star back to the place where it all begins, where the world beyond Israel was given the opportunity to be one with the God and Father of all things, back to the manger and realise that our king is not the king of governments and armies, but rather the king of so much more. He is the king of love and we are his people. Amen.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
Edmund of East Anglia, 20 November 2010
© 2010 Andrew Charles Blume