Here are some notes for a sermon for the Feast of Christ the King, for the people of Christ the King, Birkenhead, for Sunday 24th November 2013
Today is the Festival of Christ the King.
The feast of Christ the King was announced by Pope Pius XI in 1925 at the time when fascism was growing across Europe, including here in England. It was thought that there should be special emphasis and celebration that Christ is King. It was a political choice. It was intended as a political opposition and challenge to those who were imposing themselves and their grand designs – the Mussolinis and Hitlers.
The Festival of Christ the King comes on the last Sunday of the liturgical year – and next Sunday is the start of a new one.
The Christian year culminates in this assertion that Christ is King, as if through our worship, our reflections, our prayers and our readings we have come to the realization afresh that Jesus Christ is, for us, the King, and as if we want to be subject to his just and gentle rule, and that we prefer to be part of his kingdom than any other Kingdom, “United” or not.
Of course, this day has a particular significance for you. Your church has the lovely dedication of “Christ the King”. You are the church of Christ the King. You stand, sit and kneel realizing that Christ is King, subverting the tyranny of tyrants and representing the hope of those who are their victims – that they will be delivered – that there is another horizon of freedom as opposed to their awful and fearful horizons.
The introduction of the festival of Christ the King was a political act to oppose the growing power of the fascists in Europe. As the Church of Christ the King we are all called to be a political act. The church is political – we must never overlook that, and you, whose focus is on Christ the King, have a particular vocation to live that.
We have a king who rides a donkey. Have you ever sung that?
Our king, who rides into town on a donkey, contrasts and contradicts the power of the Roman emperor who arrives in town with all the cavalry and military trimmings. The Roman Emperor arrives in power to impress his power and to keep people down. Our king comes into town dishevelled and on a donkey. It’s a joke and a mockery of the superpowers who parade their strengths in their great squares. For Jesus, power is not for parading. Jesus has no need to impress, he is not like the leaders who ask “do I look big in this?”. The donkey was political act and political choice. He could have, as the story of the temptations show us, exercised his power very differently.
When it comes to horsepower God chooses the donkey. His intent was not to keep people down, but to bring them together as a kingdom of heaven, as a kingdom of God.
God and his people have always challenged the unjust rulers. That opposition goes back as far as to the times of Pharoah, from whose unjust rule God liberated his people through Moses. The opposition includes opposition to fascist tyranny and reaching to today, to the warlords, the drug barons, the local tyrant and the playground bully.
In the Old Testament we hear the voice of the prophets opposing the kings when they mislead Israel, and when their rule becomes unjust and corrupt. For example, Amos denounces those who have built “stone houses” off the backs of the poor. He says “there are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts”.
Similarly, in our reading from Jeremiah (23:1-6), the prophet condemns the misleading leaders of his day, the shepherds who lead the people astray, who have scattered the flock and driven them apart, who have not attended to their needs and have only looked after Number One. He reports “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.”
There are leaders and kings in the Old Testament who were more interested in themselves than their subjects. The prophets rail against them. That is politics. And it is compassion for those who are neglected by the rulers.
This is what we stand and kneel for. We stand to welcome Christ as our king, to assent to the rule of heaven. We kneel to pray for the coming of the kingdom, on earth as in heaven. This is a political act.
I don’t know how well people of Birkenhead know this building, and that it is named “Christ the King”. That dedication is relatively recent, isn’t it? Until 1990 the church was dedicated to St Anne. Why choose “Christ the King” for the dedication? It is a choice with political connotations. The naming was a political act that favours the poor and challenges the tyrannies of the community.
Christ the King as a building isn’t obvious. There is no spire dominating the landscape. You have been saddled with a spire, but as spires go it is quite unassuming. You have to look to find it. It’s not on the main drag. It is tucked into its community.
That seems quite appropriate to me. You don’t have to look big and impressive. You are a people tucked into your communities to share in the just and gentle rule of Christ, to exercise the responsibility we all share as the subjects of the kingdom of God – the responsibility to bring people together on the side of justice – to be trusted not to put people down, or let people down.
Christ as King isn’t obvious either, is he? He doesn’t force himself on us. He doesn’t stamp his authority everywhere. Our gospel reading reminds us of his rejection by crucifixion. He is the love that was promised by Jeremiah and longed for by so many. He is tucked into community, as the good shepherd, for bringing scattered and opposed people together, not for putting people down or letting people down as self-serving leaders do.
Other references include the painting Cast our Crowns by Jim Janknegt, the book God and Empire by John Dominic Crossan and Matthew 20:25