The Feast of Christ the King
A sermon for the Feast of Christ the King
We live in a secular society; many would say a post-Christian society. It was in answer to this challenge that the church, nearly a hundred years ago, began to celebrate the last Sunday of the church’s year as the Feast of Christ the King, and that is what we are here to do today. This festival is our answer to the rationalist-materialist society that has engulfed in our world.
Secular society sees only the material dimensions of life as real. We are born, fly a little in the light, die, and return to the earth. ‘That’s it’ they would say.
Our celebration today disagrees. It says we believe that there are further, richer dimensions to life; such ultimate things as truth, beauty, moral obligation, really do exist and should shape our lives. These are dimensions far beyond those of the material world and they have led us inexorably to believe in the necessity of God and to the experience of salvation and meaning in Christ, who is the beginning and the ending of all things.
The fundamental nature of the differences between these two views of reality is paramount. They divide the world, and the consequences of society’s choices between these views is enormous.
The richness of existence that we believe exists in life, is the reason we celebrate this Festival. The Feast of Christ the King is the summation of all we have learnt and experienced over our liturgical year. Christmas and Lent, Easter and Pentecost, have shaped our everyday lives as well as our spiritual ones. This cycle of learning and worship reaches its fulfilment today. For us, life is more than we are born, fly a little in the light, die, and cease to exist!
In the opening paragraphs of the Book of Revelation that we read this morning we see something of who Christ is and so what we have and are called to share. I thought we might reflect on some of the phrases in this reading as highlighting what we stand for, and how we should act.
The reading opens with a greeting: Grace to you and peace. Grace is a gift from God. God offers it to us with the special purpose of accomplishing in us good things, things we cannot be or do unaided. It is not a reward for good conduct but the reverse; it is the means by which we can escape from our helplessness.
Peace is the consequence that flows from us working with God’s grace to be what we can be. It means, for example, right relationships have developed with God and with our fellows. It also means we have increasing peace of mind. The ambiguity, hypocrisy and self-centeredness of secular life have less-and-less hold on us. Together Grace and Peace are the means and consequences of our faith.
So grace and peace are what we are offered from God and what we are called to offer to those around us when we live Christian lives. It is worth reminding ourselves of this as we go about our lives. Like God, we are to offer to others the grace they need to accomplish good things. Our peace can then be also their peace. What we need to do is get into the habit of mind that approaches each person and circumstance of our lives with the mental greeting: ‘grace and peace be with you!’ If we start with this attitude at the front of our minds, the differences can be amazing. It’s worth a try. When you come to someone or some situation say in your heart “grace to you and peace” and see what happens!
In the reading we now come to some of the titles the author gives to Christ and we can explore what they mean for us.
The first title he is given is as the faithful witness. Throughout his life here he showed the nature of God in all he did; his treatment of those in trouble; the moral challenges he constantly offered; his anger at hypocrisy. In these things and so many others he shows us what God is like and how that can be translated into a human life. It is now our job to do the same. We must each ask how the godly life we see in Jesus can be translated into the way we live our lives. In the small world that each of us inhabits; how do we treat those in trouble, how do we respond to the moral challenges and hypocrisy of our secular community? Are we willing to let the grace of God accomplish further good things through us? A re we faithful witnesses?
The next title we see is that Christ is the first born of the dead. We often speak of Christ’s resurrection and how this confirmed the truth of his claims: but this phrase is saying much more – he is the first born – there will many more! What a prospect! As Paul puts it in Romans: “we are the children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him”. Christ might the first born from the dead, but there will be many more. Do we live with this inheritance in mind?
Here again we confront our secular society. There can be more to life than owning more things. There is a point to it all. The challenge for each of us then is to ask, what is the framework of my life? Do we live as though this world is all there is – or do we live as though this is just the first chapter of a long and gloriously full life? If it is just the first chapter, what is it we are meant to do, to learn, here? What are we to make of the experiences of life? Do we just live through them? Or do we look at them from the perspective of being joint heirs with Christ? Do we ask for God’s grace to take life’s experiences, both good and bad, and see how they can be used for the special purpose of accomplishing in us the good things we cannot be or do unaided? I am sure that we all have made some progress down this path, but do we really live each moment as joint heirs with Christ. What would happen in our lives if we did?
The next title is: The ruler of the kings of the earth. What do we mean today when we talk of the kings of the earth? We have many potential Lords of our lives today don’t we? Power is expressed in so many different ways in our community. It is found not just in governments, but the advertising industry, the entertainment industry, in social status or whatever. Here we are back to why we have this Festival; we are confronting the values of the secular and post-Christian society in which we live. When we think a little more deeply about it, we find a world, fearing there is no tomorrow and so based on selfishness. This selfishness is expressed in so many different ways. What do some economists say? ‘Greed is good!’
How do we stand against these ‘kings of the earth’ in our own small lives? Where is grace leading you? – as I must ask myself, where is grace leading me?
Here is another of the wonderful titles of Christ: He who freed us from sins. This is a name that describes what true freedom is, namely freedom from sin and so freedom to participate in the love of God.
In our secular world, when asked what freedom is, the most common response would probably be the ability to do whatever we want. However, that is really the dominance of one’s selfishness, over one's calling to holiness and true love. "Freedom is for love." For love is the one thing that cannot be compelled. It must be freely given and freely received; otherwise, it is not love. As such, it is the only sure foundation for human dignity and liberty. Again we stand against the secular world; there are more dimensions to life than the material ones, including human dignity and liberty.
And finally we discover that ‘He made us to be a kingdom’. To be fully human is to be in community. So we are not alone in coming to God but we come as members of the great community of the Universal Church. Together we have been called by God into his kingdom. Grace draws us to this fellowship. It is here we can find wholeness and peace. It is here that we are able to worship as is our natural right and privilege.
So, we have grace that can lead us, as joint heirs with Christ, to a resurrection life in His kingdom, here we will find a life filled with hopes and challenges as we train for an unknown future. This training includes being called to witness to God’s love, and to speak against the selfishness of the secular world. It is in this training that we will ultimately find peace.
With Paul, then, let us remind ourselves of who the Christ is that we celebrate today:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and earth were created … all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”