Sunday before Advent, Christ the King
In six months, Britain will witness the coronation of the new King Charles III. Few will realise that the ceremony is not just a pageant, but is rooted in the kingship of the compassionate Christ of the Christian tradition. We however are fortunate to have a dramatic liturgical drama at this time each year that reflects upon this theme. The season of Pentecost turns to the season of the Incarnation in a climax with this Sunday proclaiming Jesus Christ as King of the saints of the faith through the ages. If it remains true to its tradition, the Coronation next year will underline the monarch’s links with the Kingship of Christ. The setting is the Holy Eucharist, and the symbols of the crown, the sceptre and orb each bearing a cross that together with the Bible are brought from the High Altar and bestowed upon the King who will be consecrated with the holy oil of Chrism. We must hope that this will not be altered or its significance glossed over, and some may see the message.
Meanwhile we are grateful to have this Sunday, first recognised in 1925 by Pope Pius XI providing a climax that formally underlines the Biblical title “King of Kings,” and confirms the full meaning and purpose of the Holy Spirit’s coming on the day of Pentecost to build a Kingdom of disciples and saints for the Lord.
However there is still much to untangle in the Christian interpretation of Kingship, because our present age, awash with propaganda, has filled our minds with political dogma about figures of power, wealth and status. Believing that the world encourages on the one hand the creation of rich celebrity idols, yet at the same time signals a better world achieved through a processes of “levelling up” for the rest of us. Monarchy has naturally been caught up in this net, and depicted as an institution of power and great wealth derived in the past from an empire built on the transportation of populations across the oceans to work on plantations. The Kingship of Christ far from being part of any of these ideas. It is the remedy for distorted worldly power.
At his trial when challenged by Pontius Pilate’s question, “are you a King,” Jesus said “my Kingdom is not of this world”, “I came to testify to truth.” Jesus is for us King of compassion and truth, just as he was at his humble birth in the stable at Bethlehem where God gave him “the throne of David and a kingdom that will have no end”. The entire adult ministry of Jesus between his birth and crucifixion were about this vision of a Kingdom of heaven that is the vehicle for renewing humanity and the world by being utterly distinct from the kingdoms of Caesars, dictators, princes and presidents. The healings that accompanied his time among people, all witnessed to the Messianic Kingdom built one built on God’s original plan to live by truth and not by evil and lies. This is why we pray daily, “thy will be done and thy kingdom come.”
All this is on display as Jesus stands before his alter ego, Pilate. This is an image of Kingship so totally removed from the modern mind. How different from the power of princes of this present age? The first followers saw very clearly this difference, and that they could not put their trust in Princes of mankind who would compel them to offer incense to Lord Caesar and call him “Kurios”. From Nero and Diocletian, Stalin and Mao it has been the same story.
Let us pray that in our age the people of God will stand by Jesus the one Lord and King in the way St. Paul gave in a final instructions to his disciple Timothy; “I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” [1 Timothy 6;13 -15]
Fr. Geoffrey Neal