Christ the King

21 November 2016

Last time, we were talking about the point at which pain and grace meet. The place where Christ is to be found. We end our church liturgical year with something called the Kingship of Christ. Why do we end it celebrating Christ as King when, in just a few weeks time we will celebrate the birth of the King again? Why do we end it (as the church does) with a reference to Christ’s crucifixion? Well, perhaps we are being asked: what does the Cross say about the Kingship of Christ?

A man, expected by his contemporaries to be the warrior King, like King David of Old; to be the great prophet; to be the Chosen One, ends up being executed like a common criminal outside the walls of the City he was supposed to rule. Yet, even in his shame and degradation and dereliction, amidst all the scorn and the sneering, he promises salvation to one of those executed alongside him. Where many of us, if not all of us, strung by cruel nails on a cross, after being tortured and humiliated might, at best, grit our teeth and suffer in silence waiting for the mercy of death to overcome us - still this man, this King, has the grace and the goodness and the strength to take another under his wing. And to pronounce - yes, royally - what is to become of his companion there on the hill of execution. What example does Christ set for those called to high office - and indeed all of us - there on the Cross?

Grace. Grace even in the most desperate of situation. Concern for others when others, ordinarily in such circumstances, might quite understandably be expected to have concern only for themselves.

And service. Christ models service through sacrifice.

This grace that Jesus exhibits, is it not the graciousness of a true King? A King who understands, above all, that he has been called to serve. To serve those over whom he has been given the care and the responsibility. Is that not what we understand true Kingship to be? Kings - good Kings and Queens and Presidents and Prime Ministers - rule by good example.

Now, we have the idea of a sacrifice for a deity and we often, I think, get the idea of that kind of sacrifice when we look at Christ on the cross. But this is perhaps not the full meaning of sacrifice as this King would have us follow. The sacrifice is for us. The people he came to serve. We, whose fallen ways, self-absorption and self-obsession, rickety societal and religious structures, meant that Christ ended up on the cross rather than on the throne where he belongs. Yet he bears this sacrifice for our sake. Amazingly - for the sake of we who put him there. Jesus accepts this irony, this contradiction, this bizarre turn of events graciously: “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do,” he says.

This is Kingly behaviour indeed. Not the exercise of worldly power and authority, and especially not the abuse of power; the acquisitiveness, opportunism, greed, vindictiveness even, of someone in a position to have power over ‘lesser people’. Underlings. Subjects. Commodities to be used, abused and discarded. This is a deeper, more revealing kingship. This is a King who says: “No matter what you do to me, no matter how you treat me, no matter how badly things go between us - I still love you. Unconditionally. And I always will.”

This is a different kind of Kingship. But, I suggest, it’s one that is deserving of our honour, our wholehearted support. Our selves. Our souls and bodies. For ever and ever. Amen.