Christ the King

Preacher: The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson, Dean

2 Samuel 23: 1 – 7, Psalm 93, Revelation 1: 4b – 7, John 18: 33 – 37

Power – it’s all about power. As I sat down to write this sermon they were cranking up the power across the road. The drumming, loud as it is, got added power through the amplifiers, making the house shake and sending the cathedral cat scooting for cover under the bed. Later in the evening more than 50,000 people, mainly people of my generation, sang, clapped, whooped and generally revelled in one of the most successful power bands of the last forty years.

Power – it’s all about power. Page after page of yesterday’s national newspaper was dedicated to investigating, examining, dissecting, speculating on the dynamics of power – that of terrorist groups around the world, and in particular, that exercised by those known variously as IS, ISIS, or, more derogatorily, Deish. A week on from the shocking events in Paris the world is still trembling, wondering who and where will be next. Beirut then Mali in the last few days – but we know all too well that there will be another tragedy, another suicide squad – and all after one thing – power.

Power – it’s all about power. Prime Ministers and presidents meet in conference, each one seeking to look good in the eyes both of the world and their home constituencies. More planes, more ships, more bombs – where will it end, this power game?

Power – it’s all about power. They stand facing off, one against the other. Two men pitted against one another. On one side Pilate, known as Pontius, governor of a province of one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen. Facing him is Jesus, a some time wandering preacher and teacher backed by a motley bunch of ‘wannabees’, most of whom have already deserted him. So he stands alone, a lonely figure in the dark hours of the night as the trial proceeds.

Another question: “Are you the king of the Jews?” It’s an odd question given that the principal accusers are the leaders of the Jews. Why do they not stand there as his accusers? Where are they? The high priest, with his minions, is also in the power game, subtly controlling the state of play. Pontius Pilate, despite his ‘power’, is manipulated by the high priest who refuses to defile himself by entering Pilate’s headquarters. So this man, supposedly so powerful and with the legions of Rome to call upon, shuttles backwards and forwards between the high priest with his co-accusers, and Jesus the accused. Who has the power?

Who has the power indeed? Despite the lonely figure he cuts, Jesus seems completely in control of the situation. To the question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replies with his own question: “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Clearly puzzled by Jesus, Pilate must decide who he will listen to – this one solitary man who refuses to deny he is a king, and indeed, claims to be a king, but not from this world; or the high priest and his supporters? In the end Pilate goes with the high priest and orders the execution of the troublesome Jesus – the apparently powerless one. Yet, as you and I believe, for it is a corner-stone of our faith, not even the power of death could hold Jesus.

Power – it’s all about power. But is it? How do we talk and think about power on this last Sunday of the liturgical year designated as Christ the King Sunday? What do we mean today by Christ the King? What are we talking about?

Michael Saward’s words in a hymn (today’s Offertory) entitled “Christ triumphant, ever reigning…” are salutary and give more than a hint at what is meant in terms of power in the Gospel.  Where the opening verse talks of “Saviour, Master, King! Lord of heaven, our lives sustaining”, the second verse has this to say: “power and majesty concealing by your humble birth.” And when we get to verse three any right minded person would walk away from someone so weak, to pathetic, so humiliated! Michael Saward again – “Suffering servant, scorned, ill-treated, victim crucified!” We need to read/sing on to verse four, “Priestly king, enthroned for ever high in heaven above! Sin and death and hell shall never stifle hymns of love.” So it is that we can sing: “Yours the glory and the crown, the high renown, the eternal name!”

This power is not the power of the rock band, or the terrorist group, or the mighty dollar, or even the nuclear weapons. This power is something quite different. It is wrapped up in the much maligned four letter word LOVE. In Jesus – whom we do call Saviour, Master, King – is the raw power of love – costly love that, in the end, proves more powerful even than death. Do we believe that? Dare we believe that? Even in the face of a Paris, or Beirut, or Mali – or Sydney? It’s not easy.

Last Sunday night, just a day after the shocking news of the killings in Paris, I spoke in my sermon about two people who could, perhaps, help us as we seek to follow Christ the King. The first was Barnabas – a nickname for a man who features prominently in the Acts of the Apostles. Barnabas means the one who encourages. One way of making a difference in a fearful and fear-filled world is to be an encourager. I see that happening all the time in the Cathedral context – and rejoice in that. Let’s try to be very intentional about encouraging others – not in an overbearing, pushy way – that’s not encouragement; but in careful listening, seeking to understand, being present to the other.

The second person I mentioned was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Throughout her long life of working in the slums, often simply sitting with the poorest of the poor as they waited to die, she is said to have encouraged her sister nuns to go out daily, and do something beautiful for God. Whatever did she mean? We have done something beautiful for God in this Cathedral this weekend. The Flower Festival reminds us that in the midst of the fear, revenge, sadness and distress, there is beauty. We can choose to be part of that, to facilitate it, to recognise and celebrate it – and help others do the same.

It sounds so simple, so simplistic – to encourage and do beauty. But once we set our minds and lives to it, I think we will be surprised, for it is all about power – the power of love which overcomes even death.

“To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom of priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” Amen. (Rev 1: 5 & 6)