Sermon: Christ the King 22nd November 2015

SERMON – CHRIST THE KING – ST ALBAN’S – 22.11.15

Rev. Catherine Eaton

Readings:        2 Sam 23. 1-7, Ps 132.1-12, Rev 1.4b-8, John 18.33-37

In the name of Christ, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the one who is and who was and who is to come. Amen.

Isn’t this a fabulous day! Over the years I‘ve grown to love this celebration of Christ the King, which brings the Christian year to a fitting conclusion.

We’ve made an exhausting journey with Jesus over the last year – we’ve met the angel at the Annunciation, the baby is born at Christmas, some wise men come to tell us who he is at Epiphany, and then, after a few stops on the way, we’re suddenly on the road to Golgotha on Good Friday. After a brief pause, we then find ourselves rejoicing at the empty tomb at Easter. Jesus disappears in the clouds at Ascension, there’s a fire and the church is born at Pentecost. We learn that God is 3 in 1 at Trinity. We briefly wonder how that works, before we’re back trying to catch up on what happened to Jesus between his life and his death, and what that means for us his followers.

And so we come to this day to discover where it’s all been heading.

But this day is also a relief, because if you’re like me, you find you’re only just getting a handle on one event before we’re on to the next. The beauty of the Christian calendar is that every year we go round the same familiar stories, but each time finding ourselves in new places, as the experiences of the past, and the new awakenings, take us on an ever-deepening spiral into our faith, and into our relationship with Jesus. The very rhythm of the year somehow embodies itself in us, the story sinks more deeply into us, and our faith seems to grow, simply through our participation in this yearly drama.

And so we come to this day, having discovered Jesus as the essence of God’s incarnation in the world, who has become the risen, ascended, and glorified one, the Christ, who is all in all, and through whom all things came into being, the Alpha before the Big Bang, and the Omega, in whom all of creation is fulfilled, into whom we’re already being drawn, and in whose life our life is already held. Christ – the one who was and who is and who is to come, the one who is before time and beyond time, and in whom time itself exists.

Unfortunately, our current religious language has left this Christ very small. Perhaps ‘Christ the King’ worked when people lived with a more medieval worldview, or even a different experience of human society and the exercise of power, but we’ve come a long way, especially in this last century, and our language is both limiting and confusing.

Today is also a difficult day as, with events in Syria, Paris, Beirut, the degradation of the environment, and so on, it’s hard to believe that Christ is king of anything. Yet our faith, and this day in particular, continues to affirm that Christ is in charge. How do we make sense of this?

Which brings me to the other reason why I find this day important: at last the scientists seem to be catching up with the mystics! As discoveries in science and cosmology expand, there seems to be a growing convergence between theology and science. For centuries, the New Testament writers, Christian mystics, and early theologians have been trying to find expression for their experience of, and insights into, this Christ.

And now, with so many new frontiers opening up in the world of science, modern theologians are all too aware that our language and our doctrines are unable to cope with our new understandings of the cosmos, and of the nature of creation itself.

In the early 20th century, a Catholic priest – Teilhard de Chardin – had already begun to identify the end point of evolution as the Omega point. Today, bizarrely, there are scientists who refer to the Omega point or the Christic point, not necessarily because they’re religious, but because it is, for them, the best way to describe where they sense evolution is heading.

The year we’ve spent journeying through the scriptures, and following the story of Jesus, is not just about giving us a focus for each Sunday. We’ve been led to this day, and been reminded on the way that Christ was there at creation, already a fully participating member of the Godhead. Christ didn’t just become Christ after the resurrection.

But the incarnation – the Jesus story in all its beauty, its pain and its promise – is also about Jesus showing us that the transformation of creation is already happening, and we are participants in it. He is the first born in this process. He has come to lead us into God from within. But that process also meant he suffered with us and for us, as the Christ in creation has always been doing. It is profound mystery, and to simply use language like ‘king’, and ‘ruler’, and so on, reduces everything, not least the Jesus story, and Christ himself, into a farce too easily dismissed by a more literate world.

The church needs to respond fully to science, because that is already God’s domain. And strangely, it’s as if we’ve been ahead of the game all along, thanks to the insights of so many early Christian writers.

Listen again to the opening words of St John’s gospel –

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being.

I always get goose-bumps when I hear these words, because, it’s as if it’s the truest thing ever said. It connects me, and all of us, to our ultimate meaning and our ultimate beginnings. We hear these words at Christmas. Today, at the end of the church year, we hear that Christ is not just the Alpha. He is also Omega, the one who is yet to come, but who is already here.

The incarnation was a moment in time, a specific event, but its effects link the beginnings of creation with its fulfilment. Its effects reach back towards the Alpha point and forwards to the Omega point, for Christ is both. And, as the church year reminds us, Christ is also the incarnate one, Jesus, the man, the wounded one, the brother and friend, the healer, the crucified and Risen one.

The words of Revelation also remind us that we are ‘a kingdom of priests serving God’. What does that mean for us?

If God is already present within creation, what is our role, if not to be as priests, not just to other human beings, but to the whole created order, which shares its energy with us, whose molecules are part of our same substance. Already we are being drawn into the fullness of Christ, the Omega. Our lives are already sacraments of that divine reality. If we are all members of that kingdom of priests serving God, then surely our task is to enter as fully into creation as Jesus did, with the same love, the same offering of ourselves, to enable all of creation to be free, and drawn into that oneness which this day calls us to celebrate. The ‘already is’ of creation’s ultimate union with God.

But this requires a completely different way of imagining the doctrines of our theology, fit for the 21st century and beyond. Christ is indeed ruler of all, but he’s not sitting on a throne somewhere up there. He is beyond and before, and already we are in him, because there is no time other than what is between the Alpha point and the Omega point. Our lives are to be sacraments of that reality, and our task is to foster the sacramentality of all creation.

Next week we have the chance to begin again with this story of Jesus the Christ, to bring our lives to it afresh, and to enter into it with all the wonder and openness we can muster. But this year, let us also bring with us creation’s whole story, because as St Paul reminds us in the letter to the Romans – creation itself ‘waits with eager longing……. [to] be set free from its bondage to decay and [to] obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (8.19-22)

The category of kingship is inadequate for this Christ. He is not simply a bigger, better version of the kings of the earth. Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, the one in whom all things hold together, the Word eternal, through whom all things came into being. We are already part of his story, already in him, and next week we come to discover again, how he himself came to be born in us, within this frail and wonderful human flesh, which is yet so vitally alive with the smallest atoms, vibrating with the energy of God.