Today we reach a triumphant end to our journey through the year from last Advent Sunday to this Feast of Christ the King. Through the year we’ve been hearing the stories about Jesus and his life among us. Our journey has taken us through many different landscapes.
There’ve been the open plains of day to day life in ordinary times when we’ve heard the extra-ordinary stories of what Jesus said, how he healed the sick and reached out to the most unlikely members of society.
There’ve been shadowy valleys of temptation, betrayal and death on the cross. Wilderness times of despair and devastating suffering. There’ve been mountain tops
of breath-taking excitement: resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. For a while now the scenery around us has been that of the Kingdom of God
and the imminent return of Christ as King and Judge and now we’ve reached this, the highest peak on our journey. From here we can look back and see where we’ve travelled and how all the paths were always leading to this place even if it didn’t always seem so at the time.
Because we have this vision of Christ as King we are inspired and empowered to return next week to the starting point and begin the journey again. Next week it’ll be Advent Sunday and we’ll begin again to prepare the way of the Lord
Next year, like this year, we’ll each be on our own journey. We, too, will walk through plains of ordinary day to day living, through our own valleys of shadow and up to our own high places of good news, joy and excitement. There’ll be times in the journey when we’ll get lost or discouraged, confused or stuck and those are the very times when we’ll need this vision of Christ the King to give purpose and meaning to our journey just as it gives purpose and meaning to the Church’s journey of faith.
But what sort of vision of Christ the King can give us the comfort, encouragement
and motivation to keep going when the going gets tough?
We heard this morning of Daniel’s weird and wonderful vision. He sees a figure he calls “Ancient One” or Ancient of Days, a heavenly King, who takes his throne among many thrones. He’s surrounded by fire, indeed fire streams from him and he’s served by tens of thousands of servants. This is a time of judgment and books are opened which record the sins and good deeds of all who are to be judged.
Our images of judgment day are perhaps forbidding and threatening when we see it in terms of a balance of scales weighing up our virtues and our faults. This is not an image that will encourage us when we feel at very low ebb.
But then on the scene appears one “like a human being”. Here is someone we can at least identify with – someone who is like us in form. We can even depict this figure which is “like a human being” in a stained glass window which shows a steam train. So now this figure in human form is brought into our world of everyday life: our world of trains, schools, shops and offices.
We can identify with Daniel’s human figure who is given an eternal and universal kingship which cannot be overpowered – he will rule over all for ever. So we have a human figure who is King – but what sort of King is he?
What sort of King will inspire love, faithfulness and devotion from his followers without force or threat of punishment for desertion?
In our story from John we see that this King is nothing like the kings of this world and his power is not the sort of power this world understands.
We’ve heard a lot this week about power in this world. The world’s most powerful man has visited this country. Terrorists have exerted power to destroy innocent men and women. Nations continue to meet that terrorism with the violence of powerful guns.
And the richest nations in the world exercise the power of wealth over nations in poverty, struggling to survive.
Jesus was right. If his kingship belonged in this world his followers would have fought to defend him and to bring down the occupying forces.
Our world cries out for a different sort of kingship, a different sort of power and a different way of being together.
When Nelson Mandela was in prison one of his torturers said to him “don’t you know I have the power to kill you?” – Pilate once asked Jesus more or less the same question. Mandela replied “don’t you know I have the power to go to my death freely?”. That, too, was the response of Jesus to the power of this world.
This King came not to establish a political sovereignty but to bear witness to the truth of God’s reign in the Kingdom of Heaven which is not of this world.
But for now this king is in this world and in this world he faces the same injustices, dangers, threats and suffering that we all face.
In our sister (brother?) church of St Peter the east window depicts the risen Christ. He is dressed in a splendid red robe – a kingly figure. But there is no throne on which a king may sit just a cross to which this king was nailed. There is no heavily jewelled crown but a crown of thorns which hurt and drew blood when it was pressed down on his head. There is no one gold ring of power for his finger but nails which were hammered through his flesh.
The window is a reminder that the victory of love over death was won only after much suffering. But it is a reminder, a proclamation that love does have that victory over death.
Jesus is the Son of Man, who carries the marks of whips, thorns and nails. But he is also Christ the King who reigns over all in his eternal kingdom.
And if Christ the King is also a Son of Man then so too is Christ the Judge of all and his judgment will be shown with the mercy and compassion of one who understands from experience what it is to be human. When we tell him the story of our lives we will find ourselves loved, accepted and healed
From there we’ll be able to look back over our lives and see that all the paths were always leading to this place even though there were times when it didn’t seem like that. Until then we can know that God’s love, acceptance and healing is among us now.
Christ the King is still Jesus, the Son of Man who walks with us and reaches out to us
with hands which still bear the marks of suffering.
Christ the King has been with us throughout our journey this year.
Christ the King will go with us on our journey through next year.
Today as we celebrate this eternal presence of Christ the King in bread and wine let us pray that his spirit will bring us refreshment, peace and whatever else our hearts need for the journey that lies ahead. Amen.