St Bride's: Sermons

Christ the King

Christ the King
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The Feast of Christ the King that we observe today is a relatively recent liturgical innovation.  It was actually instituted in the Roman Catholic Church less than a hundred years ago by the then Pope Pius XI and was a response to his concern about growing nationalism and secularism in the world after the First World War.  He commented at the time - since the close of the Great War, individuals, the different classes of society and the nations of the earth have not as yet found true peace.  The old rivalries between nations he said, have not ceased to exert their influence... the nations of today live in a state of armed peace..., a condition which tends to exhaust national finances, to waste the flower of youth, to muddy and poison the very fountainheads of life, physical, intellectual, religious, and moral.

Those observations strike me as being very relevant to our situation today.  Many of the conflicts that we see in the world, in places like Syria, appear to be civil conflicts involving competing internal factions.  But their genesis is in wider international relations and other nations are involved in those conflicts pursuing their own, often competing, interests.  Those nations aren't at war but describing this as a state of armed peace seems quite appropriate.  The cost of these conflicts in terms of the loss of human life, physical infrastructure and cultural heritage has been enormous.  At the same time our ability to secure international cooperation, for example to protect the environment, is very limited.  And we have seen the rise in many nations of nationalist feeling.  The appeal to care for one's own has grown and others, even the vulnerable, have often been demonised.  It seems to me that his situation reflects the impoverishment of our society.  That's both in terms of material inequality, with many people and communities feeling excluded from opportunities, and spiritually as too many find meaning and purpose in life, illusive.  National stories of grievance provide identification with a larger purpose and importantly, someone to blame.

Now of a much more positive note, today we welcome to St Bride's the London Pembrokeshire society, an organisation that exists to promote social and patriotic union for all hailing from or having an interest in Pembrokeshire.  Of course as a proud Welsh man and an exile, I'm particularly pleased to welcome them.  I grew up in a village called Loughor, between Swansea and Llanelli at the North West corner of the Gower Peninsula.  Not quite Pembrokeshire but the West has always had a particular appeal for me.  I'm very fond of its beaches, the coastal path, its Cathedral.  A number of my family spend as much time as they possibly can at a caravan park near Carew.  I've always felt very much as home whenever I've visited.  There's a world of difference though between celebrating those things that make people and places distinctive and the sort of nationalistic feeling that defines itself out of disdain for others. 

Interesting, the name Wales is derived from the Anglo Saxon word that was used for 'the other' for the 'outsider', the 'foreigner'.  That hasn't stopped us labelling others as outsiders though.  We are prone to the same failings as everyone else.  We can be clear though that our Christian faith calls us to be open hearted towards others, particularly the vulnerable.  The attitude of indifference towards the suffering of others, isn't what the Gospel points us to.  Jesus consistently engaged with the marginalised and excluded.   

Today is also the climax of the kingdom season that we have observed since All Saints' Day, incorporating All Souls' Day and remembrance Sunday through to this final Sunday of the liturgical year.  We have remembered those departed this life and today this feast of Christ the King reminds us that Christ has overcome death.  God's work is completed and we wait for the New Kingdom to be revealed in all its fullness.  Our allegiance is due to Christ rather than to any earthly supremacy but as the leaders and soldiers that we heard about in our Gospel story this morning, many do not see Christ as King.  He doesn't look like a King and they mock him.  But Christ's kingship is not based on "human power", it doesn't conform to human expectations, rather it is based on loving and serving others.  It was one of the thieves crucified beside Jesus who saw beyond and recognised Jesus saying "Lord remember me when you come into your Kingdom".

The New Testament epistles tells us that our experience of the world should be that of exiles, we are strangers in the world.  We are all foreigners and exiles because we have been born anew into a new homeland. In Peter's first letter he says "praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:3-4). Peter emphasizes that we have been born into something: a living hope and a new inheritance. We have become citizens of a new homeland and today we have welcomed Edward and Stephen to our number in the waters of baptism.  As the letter to the Colossians that we heard this morning reminds us, we have been rescued from darkness, transferred into the Kingdom of God. 

Pope Pius XI said - the faithful... by meditating on Christ the King, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal. May Christ reign in our minds, in our wills and in our hearts and all glory be to him, now and to the ages of ages.

Amen.

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