Sermon for Sunday, 22nd November 2009 (Christ the King/Sunday before Advent)

Nov 17th, 2009 | By | Category: Sermons

Click here for the sermon for the first Sunday in Advent

“You are a king then!” said Pilate.  John 18:37

With the passing years, the church has become more difficult to cope with. Sitting at meetings of committees which seem to have the same agenda as the last meeting and the one before and the one before; pondering the workings of central heating boilers; wondering about the church hall; there is a sense that something got lost somewhere along the way. Assurances from friends from other traditions, that similar things happen in their own churches aren’t really much comfort.

The readings on the Sunday before Advent, the Sunday when we remember Christ the King, are an antidote to the frustrations of the church. The story of a Friday in Jerusalem brings us back to what it is all about.

“You are a king then” says Pilate. What a strange sort of king Jesus is. He stands before Pilate. He stands before the man who represents the Roman Empire; he stands before the man who can call on the power of the greatest empire in history; he stands there as king. Pilate has no worldly reason to fear this man, but Pilate is terrified. Pilate wants nothing to do with this case against Jesus. Read on through Saint John and there is rising fear and panic in Pilate’s voice. Pilate tries to humiliate Jesus, the crown of thorns and the purple robe, and Jesus is even greater.

And we have to ask ourselves, do we believe in this Jesus? What would we be prepared to leave behind for faith in such a man?

Pilate tries to bargain with the crowd, he is desperate. It is Pilate who becomes powerless. He has not the courage to stand for what is right and true against what is wrong and lies. “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate knows what a monstrous deed this is.

Then Jesus is brought to Golgotha, the place of the skull, the legendary burial place of Adam. The people understood the meaning of the place, they understood how humanity had fallen from God’s purposes into death and destruction. Adam the first, Jesus the last, the Omega, the one who comes at the end of time as judge of the heavens and the earth. Do we believe in this Jesus? When we try to understand the cosmic meaning of these events, doesn’t a preoccupation with church affairs seem trivial?

Jesus is brought to the place of the skull and here he is crucified. Pilate prepares a notice and has it fastened to the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”. The sign is in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. This is a king for all the people. Aramaic was a popular form of Hebrew, it was the language of God’s own people. Latin was the language of the Empire, the language of the rulers and those in high office. Greek was the language of everyday life and trade around the Mediterranean. Jesus is a king for all the people; for the Jews and the foreigners; for the great and the good; for the common and the ordinary.

How often at church meetings do people even take on board these things? How often is there thought given to a God who is more than a Sunday morning presence for our own group of people?

The soldiers divide Jesus’ clothes between them. A common enough thing to do, a scant reward for a gruesome task. The linen tunic is woven in one piece and they don’t want to tear it. Such a garment was worn by the Jewish high priest. The high priest went into the Temple on the most solemn day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people. Jesus offers himself on the Cross as an offering for the sins of the people, one and for all time.

How often do we think about Jesus’ self sacrifice and ask what response that demands from us? Surely, it demands more than committees

To the end Jesus is the master of the situation. He is concerned for his mother and asks John to take care of her. Fulfilling Scripture he receives a drink before crying out, “It is finished”. Saint Matthew includes an account of events that we usually leave out: the curtain in the Temple is torn in two; there is an earthquake; and many holy people are raised to life. I suspect most of us, including myself, would be uncomfortable with the description of such events, they don’t sit easily in our modern rational minds.

The readings for today are a test of faith. Do we believe in this new man, this Jesus, who comes to succeed where the old man, Adam, failed? Do we believe in this high priest who offers a final and complete sacrifice, offering us a place in heaven through what he has done? Do we believe in this king, this king for every sort and condition of person?

And if we believe in these things, should it not make for a very different church?

Believing means letting go of things as they are, to become the people that God wants. What does believing mean for our church?

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  1. I appreciate the sentiments addressed in this piece. I always seem to quibble, but I only ask in order to receive clarification. I quote “I suspect most of us, including myself, would be uncomfortable with the description of such events, they don’t sit easily in our modern rational minds”, referring to the phenomena as reported by Matthew (obviously the tabloid scribe).
    You do not refer to the resurrection, perhaps because it dose not fit neatly into the message of your sermon. Or perhaps………….modern rational minds?

  2. It’s Matthew’s description of the tombs opening and people walking into the city that would be problematic for some members of my congregation (which has some very learned people). I don’t feel comfortable with many things, that doesn’t mean I would suggest they were not true, but it does mean that I recognize that I cannot present the faith as a series of propositions. There was an American-funded evangelical church in the village when I first came to the parish which closed down because it simply failed to attract people with its brand of certainty.

    The Resurrection is not part of Sunday’s Gospel, but I would hold very firmly to a traditional, conservative understanding for radical reasons: without the Resurrection, I believe, there is no justice for the poor, and from what I understand of sub-atomic physics, such extraordinary things are possible that the Resurrection is easily believable.

  3. Great point of view, thank you!

  4. Thank you Ian. I find your reply far more interesting than the original piece! I find Preacher Man’s reply also intriguing. From our little note I do take on board that you believe your stance ” I recognize that I cannot present the faith as a series of propositions”. I wonder how many of your parishioners agree with you? Strong, simple faith is the unquestioning base for many a believer.
    This is the second time this week that someone has presented me with sub-atomic physics! The first was in conversation with a gentleman who believes in ‘a power greater than ourselves’ – he is a member of AA. He used the sub-atomics point to try to explain the inexplicable. As if, by quoting real scientists, people who deal with the ‘real’ world, I would be swayed to believe, or at least accept, that parallel worlds do exist, or that “extraordinary things are possible that the Resurrection”. I am sorry, but I cannot accept the analogy.
    Just because I, as a simple human being, cannot hope to ever understand sub-atomic physics, does not mean that I do not believe the existence of such things. Or the opposite!!!
    Scientists are not theologians.
    I must say you are sounding more and more anglican to me! That’s a compliment.

  5. Oh dear, I haven’t done any theology since completing my MA two years ago and my brain is complaining at having to get out of bed.

    The Church of Ireland is not a ‘propositional’ church. Our Articles of Faith are very scant compared to the lengthy statements elsewhere. My parishioners would recoil at being told that something was so simply because it was so – they would associate such thought with the days of McQuaid. Unquestioning faith is not really faith at all, because unless it has been questioned it has never been tested.

    Quantum physics is probably not a good defence of the Resurrection, but there are physicists if have no problem with the idea of God and I think some of them would make rather good theologians. I was at the grave of Erwin Schroedinger back in January when a physics graduate, who was in the churchyard, came over to talk about the anthropomorphic principle – I hadn’t heard of it before.

    You dodge the issue of justice for the poor – if there is no Resurrection, then I believe the world to be a fundamentally unjust place.

    I’m afraid traditional Anglicans are becoming rare – we are being driven into extinction by our warring wings.

  6. It’s late so forgive the quick reply – I’ll follow up later. I did not think I dodged the issue of justice for the poor. I just did not address it!. I accept that you believe “if there is no Resurrection, then I believe the world to be a fundamentally unjust place”. I’m afraid I don’t get or accept such a proposition, if I may use such a word !
    Warring wings within the Anglican tradition would make a very interesting topic, but that may just be fanning the flames. Oh to mix a metaphor.

  7. I have to go to the North for a wedding, so shall ponder these things.

    I met a man called Emmanuel in the summer. His wife and five of his six children were killed in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. With no resurrection, is that to be their lot?

  8. Have a good wedding. I’ll also ponder upon your question. Thousands have done so before me, but I’ll add my tuppenceworth.

  9. Came across this web page looking for an answer as to what this Sunday means…found the exchange of comments
    at the end of the sermon very interesting.
    My father was a Baptist Minister, Brighton in the U.K.
    and I am an artist living in South Africa.
    …………..we are all held in a holding pattern of habits, till we have brief periods of determination and
    inspiration…perhaps to change ‘things’ ..that’s what this Sunday..Christ the celebrating..
    a precursor to change – that might be my answer

  10. Unfortunately, I don’t see much inclination towards change amongst those who lead his followers.

  11. I’ve been thinking about your Emmanuel. You ask what is to be their lot, I assume you mean Emmanuel and his child. Common decency and fellow human feeling leave me with nothing but pain for their plight. How can he carry on? He has two choices – there are only ever two choices. Suicide or carry on. Please do not think me heartless – not enough space to properly argue the point. Why commit suicide? It seems a pointless and selfish act. Why carry on? It is nature’s way. Survive. Keep our genes, dna, molecules our very being, going.
    Unjust world? Of course it is. We must keep faith with our ‘humanity’. Most organised religions recoginse this. Putting ones faith in the resurrection maybe a way to reconcile this ‘unjust’ world with hope for the future. If Emmanuel is happy with that, then who am I to argue the toss with him? What are the odds that the ‘next life’ will be as unjust as this one? What is a just world?

  12. I was thinking about those killed – if you have been hacked to death as a child, then is that your entire life?

    Ted Hughes embodies your thoughts about having to carry on in one of the poems from ‘Crow’, I can’t remember its title at the moment.

    A just world, for me, is one which fulfils at least some of the visions of the prophet Isaiah.

  13. As far as I can see or judge, yes, that would be one’s entire life.
    You may not be surprised to note that Sylvia Plath is one of my favourite poets. Interesting that you mention Ted Hughes!
    I promise to re-visit Isaiah.
    May we draw a veil over this topic pro tem? I feel sure it will crop up again……soon…:)

  14. Aye – my brain is not accustomed to such exertions. I’m more the church boiler and hall keys sort of clergyman!

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