This week, it’s a pleasure to welcome another guest post from my colleague Revd. Jim, who preached the sermon below for us on Sunday 22nd November, the festival of Christ the King.
I recently met again with a cousin with whom I played ‘hide & seek’ with in the 1960s, and meeting him I was reminded of the moment when there’s an announcement ‘Coming, ready or not’. It’s what this time of year (and our reading for today) is about – and especially in 2020 when the number of uncertainties is as great as ever.
Christ the King was a festival which originated as recently as 1925 by Pope Pius 11th. It was a response to the secularising tendencies of the time which tried to drive a wedge between political and social concerns and the Christian faith. We in this group of villages should therefore be struck by the way that, just around that time, Longworth church introduced an ‘Arts and Crafts’ style east window with Christ reigning from the cross. And at the same time Buckland church acquired its east window representing Christ in majesty. This latter depicts Christs rule over poetry, agriculture, temporal power, spinning , carpentry, music, and even mathematics!
But by 1969 there was a new realisation that whatever else ‘Christ the King’ was about, it was also a theme about the end – the end of time and the end of the church’s year. And this was appropriate when Advent (with its four traditional themes of Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell) was going out of favour. A growing preoccupation with preparation for Christmas and early carol services – and shopping! – was taking its place. So it was that Christ the King (still a Roman Catholic festival) was moved to the Sunday before Advent in 1969. Then up to 2000 it was adopted by the other major denominations. So it is that today our readings naturally round off the teachings of Jesus we’ve had all summer with his teaching about his own return. And inescapably that also means we still have to think about Judgement.
So it’s reassuring to know Christ is ‘In Charge’ – especially when the world seems in turmoil. But not like Bruce Forsyth’s song (I’m in charge) – with an idea of leadership I’d call an abdication of responsibility, allowing people to behave as they want. Instead, a helpful picture, as Bishop Tom Wright points out, is the idea of the International Court of Human Justice – for all its weaknesses, ensuring that the vulnerable are protected from the unscrupulous. That’s the issue about vaccines is it not?
Clearly Jesus’ rule is good news for those of his followers who find themselves in need.
And William Barclay has two illustrations adopted by Michael Green:
Francis of Assisi, wealthy and high-born, was out riding one day and met a man disfigured by leprosy. Francis was moved to dismount and hug the poor man. As he did so, the face of the leprosy sufferer changed into the face of Christ.
Likewise, Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier and a Christian. One freezing day a beggar asked him for alms. Martin had no money, but, seeing the man blue with cold, he ripped his soldier’s cloak in half and gave one part to the beggar. That night he had a dream. He saw Jesus in the courts of heaven, wearing half his cloak. He heard an angel ask, ‘Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you?’ And Jesus replied, ‘My servant Martin gave it to me.’
This doesn’t mean that humanitarian activity can replace faith in Christ. But rather we should think of the concerns of Christ the King as personal and relational rather than merely religious.
So who can we help today, or this week, who might be ‘Christ in disguise’ for us?