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Christ the King

“Eternal Father, whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven that he might rule over all things as Lord and King”

Today is the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ Universal King, to give the feast its full and proper title. Christ the King, more simply. Appropriately, on this last Sunday of the Church’s year, we look back on the different seasons we’ve kept, the special days we’ve celebrated, and we see them all drawn together and summed up in this image, this icon if you like, of Christ the King. Christ the King is a statement of our faith. It’s also a proclamation. It’s the message that we are called to proclaim, the truth about the world and human existence.

What do you think is the greatest challenge, the greatest danger even, facing today’s Church as we seek to proclaim that Christ is King? Is it secularism and the alleged increase of atheism? I doubt that. There has always been unbelief in different forms. It’s not a particularly modern phenomenon. In any case, I suspect many people say they’re atheists without having really thought much about it. In my early teens I used to say I was an atheist if anyone bothered to ask me. Later I became a Christian and the rest is history.

Is our greatest danger the multi-cultural society, in which Christianity, rather than having a privileged position, is one religion among many? I doubt that too. I remember an occasion a couple of years ago when someone who worked in the same office as me, a devout practising Muslim said to me, quite unexpectedly, I would like your advice as a priest. Now imagine that. Someone who has his own deeply-held faith but actually wants to take advice and learn from someone of a different faith. The multi-cultural, multi-faith society is no threat. Rather it is an opportunity to share the insights which come from our different faiths and to learn from each other. Incidentally, do read the comment on today’s gospel in the weekly sheet. The important thing about the judgement of the sheep and the goats is that they’re being judged on how they’ve responded to human need. There’s no mention of what religion they belong to.

No, I think the greatest danger is that we will come to see our faith as something to withdraw into, something the purpose of which is to give us feelings of comfort and security and some sense of the meaning of our own lives, but which has nothing to do with the social, moral and political issues our country faces; so that Christ is King on Sunday mornings between 10.30 and lunchtime but not the rest of the week. What a former Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Lord Runcie, called the privatisation of religion.

Would you mind if I changed the subject, just a little bit? I love walking around London. I try to manage it once a week. And one of my favourite walks takes me from Sloane Square, north along Sloane Street, past the beautiful Church of the Holy Trinity, much loved by Sir John Betjeman the one-time Poet Laureate. Unfortunately, when I get to the end of Sloane Street and hit the junction with Brompton Road and Knightsbridge, my enjoyment comes to an abrupt end. Because there I find myself confronted by the large development of luxury residences and retail outlets called One Hyde Park. 

Now this particular development is famous – or notorious, depending on your point of view – because a while back one of the flats there sold for a record £140m. When I read that, I thought it must be a mistake and whoever wrote it must have put a couple of extra noughts in without realising. But it wasn’t a mistake. Someone had actually paid this astronomical sum for a flat in these blocks. Someone I know who works in the property business told me that quite often they don’t bother to advertise these luxury flats, they simply contact a handful of people somewhere in the world and ask them if they want one. And sometimes the new owners don’t actually live in these dwellings, they just leave them to stand empty.

I’ve been very tempted to ring up some of these people myself and say, look, if you want a flat in a tower block, Lambeth Council will give you one for a lot less than that. But seriously, this is what’s going on while individuals and families, some with young children, are homeless or poorly housed. Meanwhile in the street below One Hyde Park, cars pick their way through the traffic congestion and people go about their business, perhaps unaware of the injustice it represents or perhaps not caring about it. If ever there was a parable of our society......

What does it mean to say that Christ is King? Does it bear any relation to reality? Does it say anything useful about the world we live in? Well let’s see if it does. Let’s take this faith that Christ is King and let’s turn the whole thing round and see what it looks like in reverse, so to speak:

Instead of Christ is King, Power is King. Private Wealth is King. Consumerism is King. Material Success is King. Inequality, in the guise of social mobility, is King. Influence, coupled with the ability to manipulate things to one’s own advantage, is King. That’s what it looks like. Now tell me, if that’s how we’re meant to live, if that’s what human life is all about, what kind of a society, what kind of a world will we end up with? 

And I don’t think you need me to answer that question for you, because I think we all know the answer.

So let’s turn it round again. This is what it now looks like. Christ is King because he reached out to those who’d been pushed to the margins, invited them into intimate fellowship and valued them as human beings, thereby giving us the vision of a world in which everyone matters equally. Christ is King because he confronted the establishment of his day and laid bare their hypocrisy. Christ is King because he preached the coming of the Kingdom of God and taught that human society was under God’s judgement. Christ is King because he showed us the only way to wholeness of life for us as individuals, as a community and as a society. And indeed as the Church.

When we think of Christ as our King and what that means, we may think of biblical words like salvation, redemption, righteousness. Or we may think of more everyday sort of words like justice, equality, or just plain decency. The words matter very little, because basically they all mean the same thing. And together they point to the symbol which sums up and expresses everything we believe in, hope for and strive after. Christ the King.

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Church of the Holy Spirit, 23rd November 2014