The Feast of Christ the King - A Paradox
Preacher: The Very Rev'd Richard Fenwick
20 November 2005, 10:30 (Christ the King)
Today is the Feast of Christ the King...the day when we honour that strangest paradox of a carpenter's son who is also the King of Creation. And paradox it is - Jesus the son of God... born into a humble family... who preached, taught, healed, and who finally died a criminal's death when the odds were impossibly against him. Yet, at the same time, this is the Jesus who was shown to the world at his baptism in the Jordan, and later, on the Mount of Transfiguration, as God's "beloved Son"... the one who was to rise again that cold early Sunday morning - to appear time and again to many folk... the one who was then to be taken into heaven in glory.
“STIR-UP SUNDAY”: But then, today is also important as the last Sunday in the Church's year. And although on the one hand we look to Jesus as King and Ruler of all men's hearts, so on the other we start turning our minds towards the great mystery for which Advent prepares us - the birth of this Lord Jesus - our paradox - carpenter yet king.
If there is a key word for today as the “Sunday Next before Advent”, then it must be "preparation". The old name for today "stir-up" Sunday reminds us that Advent which is to come is all about preparation; and through all the lessons and readings, we will prepare ourselves once again for the mystery of God's great gift of his Son.
But there again, if we remember this as the “Feast of Christ the King”, the key word is also "preparation", for the history of mankind is the history of God preparing the way for the coming of his Son, whose Kingdom was to be in the hearts of all. He never hurried, but we can see him steadily working his purpose through the years, and through the great Patriarchs of the Jewish people. He worked through Abraham, Jacob, Moses and many others: then, "in the fullness of time", as St. Paul says, he acts. And when he does everything in the world is ready for this sovereign Lord of Creation.
Some 50 years ago, Leslie Badham was the Vicar of Clewer in Berkshire. In his lovely old book "Verdict on Jesus", he says
"One of the most remarkable things in history was the extraordinary timeliness of Jesus' arrival. Had he come either earlier or later, he would have missed the one moment in history...for the reception, spread... and understanding... of the Gospel". But more about that a little later.
THE OLD TESTAMENT STORY is the record of God preparing his chosen people - through their religion and through their history. And God speaks to them, through the psalmists, through the prophets, to tell them of the ONE WHO IS TO COME.
HE SPEAKS THROUGH ISAIAH ... and we remember the prophet giving encouragement to the King when Jerusalem was under siege from the cruel Assyrian army. His instruction was simply "trust, wait and watch". The extraordinary thing was that, within the space of a night, the besiegers were packing up to leave. We know now that the camp of the Assyrian army was, very likely ridden with rats who brought the bubonic plague. But whatever it was, Isaiah's word is vindicated, and the city is saved. So, the prophet goes on to tell of the Messiah who is to come... that he will be a new King who is a baby boy, Emmanuel (God with us)... “Wonderful, Counsellor, Prince of Peace" (Ch.9: 6)
Isaiah also told them that the Messiah would be "despised and rejected", and that he would suffer for many (vv. 52 and 3). But the heart of his message is for us all, and it is simply this: "Trust, wait and watch."
JEREMIAH also played his part in the PREPARATION Of the Jewish people. He was the one who, in desperation, to get the people to listen to his warnings about the danger of the great Assyrian army, flung a pitcher down on the stony slope of a hill. “Jerusalem”, he said, “will be destroyed just like this pitcher has been destroyed. But it will not always be like this for another King will come. And he”, says Jeremiah, “will come to RULE THE HEARTS OF ALL MEN”. (23: 5 and 6)
And then, “in the fullness of time”... as St. Paul writes to the Galatians, and as Leslie Badham points out... ALL WAS READY:
1. To start with, the TIME was right, with a universal culture and language which was Greek - the language of the whole ancient world - the language of philosophy and teaching.
2. And then there was the great PAX ROMANA, which meant that the time was right for news to travel. For the first time, with this great peace, there was stability, and unity of political direction. - The far flung Roman Empire was the perfect environment for the spread of the faith. Above all, communication was easy, for with the Pax Romana came the Roman roads.
3. And there again, the time was right, with what one might call "the failure of the human spirit". Athens was no longer famous for its wisdom, and Rome was certainly not renowned for its virtues. So the world was restless, it was in need, people were waiting... and when all was ready, the last and greatest herald, John the Baptist proclaimed: "There stands one among you, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to unloose."
So he was there - the Messiah - the King... and all "in the fullness of time".
TODAY, as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, the readings, the colours, the flowers, everything reminds us of our Lord - risen, ascended, and glorified, seated at the right hand of God himself.
There again, as it is "Stir up Sunday”, we turn towards the story of the birth of our child/carpenter/Saviour/King of Creation. And after the glory of today, so in the weeks to come everything will combine to remind us of that message of PREPARATION for our King... the colours, the readings, the whole teaching of the Church.
Just a few miles away to the west is the remarkable old Roman villa at Lullingston. This was built sometime between the years 80 and 90 A.D. It was destroyed by fire eventually. But meanwhile, in the earliest days, inside the villa, the owners constructed a cult- room for worship. Then at some stage, possibly within the next 100 or so, a Christian chapel was built at the north end. The walls were painted, and on one wall appears the ancient Christian monogram of the “chi-rho”... and this is enclosed in a laurel wreath.
Now, if you take a slightly longer journey down to the south-east, just outside the walls of the City of Canterbury you come across the most ancient church of St Martin. Yet this itself was founded on a small and far earlier building which some scholars say was a Romano-British chapel.
Moreover, they say that it might well have been first built when the Romans were still in control of the area. So, from the very early days of the Christian era, the faith was here in the County of Kent – well bedded down into the lives of local people.
But then, the time was right – God had sent forth his son, Christ the King... Indeed, that fire of the Christian faith that burned here in these far-flung and desolate parts of the Roman Empire...... that fire that was lit originally amongst just a handful in Jerusalem, was set to warm and to light-up the hearts of vast numbers the whole world over. And that fire continues to warm US and to light up our way as we also prepare for the coming of the Christ Child... here in Rochester... on this Feast of Christ the King, 2005.