Sunday, 21 November 2021

Welcoming Christ as King
in the week before Advent

‘Christ in Glory’ … Graham Sutherland’s tapestry above the High Altar in Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 21 November 2021

The Sunday before Advent, the Kingship of Christ


9:30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

11:30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry

The Readings: II Samuel 23: 1-7; Psalm 132: 1-12 (13-18); Revelation 1: 4b-8; John 18: 33-37.

The readings can be found HERE.

Sir Jacob Epstein’s figure, ‘Christ in Majesty,’ is raised above the nave on a concrete arch designed by George Pace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The Christmas decorations, including trees and lights, are up in the streets and the shops in the city centre in Limerick. We are still more than a full calendar month away from Christmas Eve, but already the Shopping Centres would have us believe Christmas has arrived as shop owners and traders try to breathe a festive air into our lives.

They badly need that business this year, I suppose, after the experiences of last year.

Unlike some friends in England who have already got their first Christmas card, I have yet to receive one.

Despite the lights and the late nights, Christ is at the heart of Christmas, and that waiting for Christ, anticipating Christ, should be at the heart of the Advent season, which begins next Sunday (28 November).

Advent is the season of preparing for Christmas, and in the weeks before Advent we even prepare for Advent itself, with readings telling us about the Coming of Christ.

We have made Christmas a far-too comfortable story. It was never meant to be, but we have made it comfortable with our Christmas card images of the sweet little baby Jesus, being visited by kings and surrounded by adoring, cute little animals and hosts of fluffy white angels. The reality, of course, is that Christmas was never meant to be a comfortable story.

Christmas is a story about poverty and about people who are homeless and rejected and who can find no place to stay.

It is a messy story about a child born surrounded by the filth of animals and the dirt of squalor.

It is a story of shepherds who are involved in dangerous work, staying up all night, out in the winter cold, watching out for wolves and sheep stealers.

It is a story of trickery, deceit and the corruption of political power that eventually leads to a cruel dictator stooping to murder, even the murder of innocent children, to secure his own grip on power.

But these sorts of images do not sell Christmas Cards or help to get the boss drunk under the mistletoe at the office party.

That is why – in these weeks before Advent – we have readings that remind us what the coming of Christ into the world means, what the Kingdom of God is like, and how we should prepare for the coming of Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

The promise of Advent is emphasised in the reading from the Book of Revelation: ‘Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him’ (Revelation 1: 7).

Marking the Sunday before Advent by crowning Christ as King helps us to focus on Advent from next Sunday, and Advent is supposed to be a time and a season of preparing for the coming of Christ.

Kings may not be a good role model in this part of Ireland or for people living in modern democratic societies where the heads of state are elected. Nor are the models of kingship in history or in contemporary society so good. It is worth asking some questions:

What do you think a good king or a good ruler – a good president or good prime minister – should be like?

Without descending into party politics or party favouritism, how do you think a good ruler should behave in the interests of his or her people?

Do you remember how, as children, we would play games like ‘three wishes’? If you had to make decisions for this country – indeed, if you had to make decisions for the future of the world – what three priorities would rise to the top of your list?

Our Psalm this morning (Psalm 132: 1-12) tells us of King David’s determination to build a house for God. God is asked to remember David’s diligence in finding a proper place for God’s sanctuary.

But, if I had the task of building a house for God, who would be welcome there? And who am I in danger of excluding?

In our second reading (Revelation 1: 4b-8), Saint John writes to the Church as if we are gathered before the throne of God, and reminds us that God has made us a kingdom and made us priests serving God, mediators between God and the rest of humanity.

Christ comes again at the end of the age as judge and king, he is the beginning and the end, the Alpha (Α) and the Omega (Ω), the sovereign over all, the one who was, and is, and is to come. Do my three wishes reflect his hopes and his love for humanity, for creation?

Our Gospel reading (John 18: 33-37), at the moment when Christ is on trial before Pilate, might, at first reading, seem a more appropriate reading for Holy Week than the week before Advent, a more appropriate preparation for Easter than for Christmas.

But at this stage, Pilate demands to know whether Christ is a King: ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ (John 18: 33).

And he answers: ‘My kingdom is not from this world … For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice’ (John 18: 36-37).

Christ comes not just as a cute cuddly babe wrapped up in the manger and under the floodlights of a front window in a large department store. We are also preparing for the coming of Christ as King.

In this reading, Christ rejects all dysfunctional models of majesty and kingship. He is not happy with Pilate trying to project onto him models of kingship that are taken from the haughty and the aloof, the daft and the barmy, or the despotic and the tyrannical.

As he is being tortured and crucified, his tormentors and detractors still try to project these models of kingship onto Christ as they whip him and beat him to humility, as they crown him with thorns and mock him, and finally as he is crucified for all the world to see.

What sort of a king did Pilate expect Christ to be?

Indeed, what does majesty and graciousness mean for you today?

If I had three wishes for my community, my country, my continent, my world, would they, in truth, reflect my own selfish interests and those of my own inner circle?

Or, in truth, would they reflect the values of Christ, the coming King whose reign is marked by justice and mercy, peace and love?

Would I be found among those who belong to the truth and listen to his voice?

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Christ the King … a stained glass window in Mount Melleray Abbey, Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 18: 33-37 (NRSVA):

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 34 Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ 35 Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ 36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37 Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’

‘Condemned’ … Christ before Pilate in Station 1 of the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Pilate condemns Jesus to die (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: White (the Kingship of Christ)

The Collect:

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
Keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Collect of the Word:

Everlasting God,
whose will is to restore all things
in your well-beloved Son, our Lord and King:
grant that the people of earth,
now divided and enslaved by sin,
may be freed and brought together
under his gentle and loving rule;
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that plenteously bearing the fruit of good works
they may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer (Mission):

Eternal Giver of love and power,
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom.
Confirm us in this mission,
and help us to live the good news we proclaim;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Christ the King, surrounded by the Four Evangelists, saints and apostles above the West Door of Cobh Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Hymns:

6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise (CD 1)
263, Crown him with many crowns (CD 16)
321, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty (CD 19)

Christ enthroned between two archangels, Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel, in the south apse in the Church of Santa Fosca in Torcello in the Lagoon of Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



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