24 November 2019

With Christ the King
on the journey to
Calvary and Advent

Christ the King depicted in the reredos in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 24 November 2019

The Kingship of Christ (Christ the King),

The Sunday before Advent (Mission Sunday)

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church

Readings: Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Canticle: Benedictus (Luke 1: 68-79); Colossians 1: 11–20; Luke 23: 33-43. There is a link to the Readings HERE.

Christ the King and the mission of the Church … a stained-glass window in Peterborough Cathedral with a mission theme (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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

This morning is the feast of the Kingship of Christ, or the Feast of Christ the King, and Mission Sunday in this diocese.

Our readings bring us to the end of the Church Year. The Gospel reading also marks the last Sunday at the end of our journey in the Lectionary with Christ on his journey to Jerusalem. We will begin it all again next Sunday, with a new cycle of readings, beginning with Advent Sunday [1 December 2019], and reading through Saint Matthew’s Gospel.

But this morning’s Gospel reading (Luke 23: 33-43) gives us time to pause and reflect on the fact that we have followed Christ for seven months or so through Saint Luke’s Gospel. We have seen Saint Luke’s distinctive emphases on the poor and their inclusion in the Kingdom, the inclusion of those not normally invited as guests to the great feasts.

In the Gospel reading, we are at the moment when Christ is crucified. The crucifixion is truly emphasised on Good Friday, but this morning the emphasis is on Christ the King and the request by one of the criminals to ‘remember me’ in the kingdom.

Our Epistle reading (Colossians 1: 11-20) includes a hymn praising Christ as the king of this kingdom, listing his royal attributes in poetic form (verse 15-20):

‘In him all 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.’

The Gospel reading may seem out of sequence as we approach Advent and prepare for Christmas. However, the Crucifixion is one of the ways in which we see Christ revealed to the world as King. The Crucifixion is his triumph rather than his defeat, and it leads not to our death but to his Resurrection and our promise of life in all its fullness, personalised in the way Christ assures the second criminal of the immediate promise of a place with him in Paradise.

This reading challenges to accept that today, this day (σήμερον, símeron), this very day, is the time to respond to the claims the kingdom makes on us (verse 43).

This reading may seem to be a little out of sequence on Sunday morning. We are preparing for Christmas, you may think, not for Good Friday and Easter. But we forget that so easily. I hear on all the radio chat shows people already talking about this being the Christmas Season … before Advent has even started. In Britain, people are even talking about a Christmas election, rather than an Advent election.

But Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas, with the Lectionary readings telling us about the Coming of Christ.

We have made Christmas a far-too 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.

That is why in the weeks before Advent we have readings that remind us about 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.

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.

Kingship 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. Let me share some examples:

● We are familiar with a model of monarchy that paradoxically appears to be benign on the one hand and appears aloof and remote on the other hand, at the very apex of a class system defined by birth, title and inherited privilege.

● In other northern European countries, the model of monarchy is portrayed in the media by figureheads who are slightly daft do-gooders, riding around on bicycles in parks and by canals in ways that threaten to rob kingship of majesty, dignity and grace.

● Or, take recently deposed emperors: Halie Selassie sat back in luxury as his people starved to death; Emperor Bokassa, was a tyrant accused of eating his people and having them butchered at whim.

● The present election in Britain is more like a contest between two Alpha males who want to be king rather than Prime Minister – and remember that the word minister, whether we use it for government ministers or church ministers, is supposed to convey the idea of service, serving the people and serving God.

This morning, the Sunday before Advent gives us time to pause and reflect on why, as we were reading our way through Saint Luke’s Gospel, we have been following Christ on his journey to Jerusalem. For it is there that he will be revealed in glory as the Son of Man and the King.

Discussing how the Lectionary can at times seem to provide readings that are incongruous or out of season, Canon Giles Fraser – who resigned as Canon Chancellor of Saint Paul’s because of the cathedral’s response to the Occupy protests – wrote in the Church Times some years ago [4 November 2011]:

‘For too long the Church has been obsessed with its own internal workings and with silly arguments about sex. Now is the time for a new debate and a new emphasis. For if we are not fully involved with complex discussions about the relationship between financial justice and the way our financial institutions work, then we might as well give up on being a proper Church and admit that we are the spiritual arm of the heritage industry.’

He recalls that the Evensong readings set for his last sermon in Saint Paul’s Cathedral included: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God… But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation’ (Luke 6: 20, 25).

This morning’s Gospel reading challenges us in a way that is uncomfortable, but with things that must stay on the agenda of the Church.

The genius of power is revealed in those who have it and can use it but only do so sparingly. Christ’s choice is not to gratify those who want a worldly king, whether he is benign or barmy. Instead, he displays supreme majesty in his priorities for those who are counted out when it comes to other kingdoms.

Christ rejects all the dysfunctional models of majesty and kingship. He is not coming again as a king who is haughty and aloof, daft and barmy, or despotic and tyrannical. Instead he shows a model of kingship that emphasises what majesty and graciousness should mean for us today – giving priority in the kingdom to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner.

As we prepare for Christmas we should be preparing to enjoy time with our families and friends, time for a good winter’s holiday. But we should also remember the reason we have Christmas, the reason Christ came into the world, and the reason he is coming again.

We can look forward to seeing the Christ child in the crib and to singing about him in the carols. But let us also look forward to seeing him in glory.

So let us be prepared, on this Mission Sunday and this Feast of Christ the King, to see him in the hungry, the thirsty, the unwelcome stranger, those who are naked and vulnerable, those who have no provisions for health care, those who are prisoners, those who have no visitors and those who are lonely and marginalised.

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 Crucified and in Majesty … a Crucifix in the Emmaus Retreat Centre, Swords, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 23: 33-43:

33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [34 Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38 There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42 Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43 He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Eric Gill’s last work is the Crucifixion in the Chapel of Saint George and the English Martyrs in Westminster Cathedral, showing the Crucified Christ as Christ the King (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Colour: White.

The Collect of the Day:

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.

The Collect for Mission:

Almighty God,
who called your Church to witness
that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself:
Help us to proclaim the good news of your love,
that all who hear it may be drawn to you;
through him who was lifted up on the cross,
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Collect of the Word:

Eternal God,
you exalted Jesus Christ to rule over all things,
and have made us instruments of his kingdom:
by your Spirit empower us to love the unloved,
and to minister to all in need,
then at the last bring us to your eternal realm
where we may be welcomed into your everlasting joy
and may worship and adore you for ever:
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reign with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

A statue of Christ the King outside the parish church in Broadford, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)


20, The King of Love my shepherd is (CD 1)
431, Lord enthroned in heavenly splendour (CD 26)
259, Christ triumphant, ever reigning (CD 16)

Christ in Majesty … John Piper’s window in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield

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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