Here we come to the endings of the church’s year, having been led by a circuitous route through the Gospel of Mark and, as today, parts of the Gospel of John. Our OT reading at Mattins from Daniel, and the epistle reading just now from the beginning of the Apocalypse offer epic scenes. This is flinging open the gates, not just to another year, but to another – and owe-inspiring -dimension. The comparison which sprung into my simple mind was with the season finales of Doctor Who. You know the kind of thing: when the season’s threads and character-arcs all coverage in the final episodes and there isn’t just a great confrontation, but something mind bending. A joining of present and past lives, a reboot of the universe, a questioning of reality itself. These days you can enter the adventure via a blue police box on a Sunday tea-time. And you can be sure our scriptures do not give us less than that.
What then is the dimension into which they precipitate us? We could name it: ‘The Kingdom of God’ , ‘The reign of God’. And theologians love to do so, perhaps because there is room there for all sorts of people and adventures, beyond what is known to the Church.
But today’s feast doesn’t go there exactly. For this past century, the end point of the church’s year-long journey has been, not ‘The Kingdom of God’ and a new social order but ‘Christ the King’ – more specific and an unavoidable concrete relationship:-
It is Christ whom the texts point out coming with the clouds of heaven and being given dominion for ever and ever. This is not necessarily comfortable. There is mention of wailing. But my question is: if Christ the King is the epic finale, why then does today’s gospel bring us to Christ in a closed room with just one other person?: – Pilate, whose weakness of character keeps Jesus bound; Pilate, who turns his back on the truth?
Well, it is certainly in line with Jesus own reluctance to be named King: earlier he hid himself from those who would call him King; and here, when Pilate asks,
“Are you the King of the Jews?”, Jesus answers, “You say that I am a King.”
And then, have you noticed what an odd title ‘Christ the King’ is? It is so familiar to us, we accept it. But if it referred to any kind of kingship we’ve experienced, we’d be talking about ‘King Jesus’. Some people do – but that is to replace one king with another: King Fred or Queen Hettie with King Jesus.
No: “My kingdom”, Jesus tells Pilate, “is not from this world.” Unfortunately – but predictably – this world is all Pilate is interested in.
‘Christ the King’, however, precipitates us into a different dimension. The reason the title is odd is that it aligns two vocations: the Christ, the anointed one, the messiah … and the King.
The King preserves and defends. He determines the truth, lays down the law and makes judgments. The tools for kingship have often been force and wealth and inheritance. The Christ, the Messiah, is different: he stirs up, changes and transforms. He reveals the truth. In his hands the law does not bear down, but animates and inspires.
If the Messiah is from for above, then the King is born among us. The king is the representative human being; the one who shows what the dignity and glory are of each human being; the son of Adam, the daughter of Eve, who become King Peter and Queen Susan, King Edmund and Queen Lucy.
Christ the King both transforms and preserves, uncovers the glory of our birth-right and brings gifts from heaven. Christ the King is a new form of Kingship: -the familiar devotional image which juxtaposes the crowned, robed figure of Jesus and the Cross points to this. So too do the stories of those Christian kings we have been remembering these past days: St Edward of East Anglia, whose victory was through the powerlessness of martyrdom, or St Margret of Scotland whose queenliness was most seen in her human love of the poor.
Christ the King rules where the old order is reversed: victors wail; the loser in history’s march are revealed as the King’s friends. The captive is released, the blind see, the oppressed go free. It is a vision that brought hope one hundred years ago, to the days of the Fall of Eagles and to the uncountable loss in the mud of the trenches and to the sweats of the flu that followed. It is a vision that can bring hope to our fractured world today.
This vision is perfectly encapsulated in that scene in Pilate’s room: the man whose voice gives us truth and the man who dare not listen.
And – to conclude – the vision of Christ the King is indeed the epic vision seen by St John from Patmos which he ascribes to the One who “loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”