On the January 21 1924 in the hills near Moscow Lenin died. Many, including Lenin himself, had wanted Trotsky to take his place but it was Stalin who got the job, and the rest, as they say, is history. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I realised that Russian Communism maybe wasn’t the answer, until I started to see a bigger picture.
World war One had seen the fall of so many big dynasties the Hohenzollerns , Romanovs, Habsburgs, and the Osmans.
For the church and for society there was a fearfulness about what the future held – maybe Stalin was the answer? The world was changing fast and new ideologies where moving quickly to fill the apparent vacuum. The Feast of Christ the King was created in 1925 to speak directly into this vacuum. And although the names and groups are different it is easy to see some comparisons between the mid 1920s and our own time – Brexit, militant Isalm, Trump, Putin and the cult of the strongman leader – we too live in uncertain times and we too, as a Church need to proclaim the Kingship of Christ.
But Kingship sounds so medieval, so feudal, so hierarchical, so patriarchal! What do we really want to have to do with another group of people proclaiming the ultimate power of yet another strongman? What’s the difference?
We’ve been reading Mark’s Gospel in the house groups this term. And in the first half of the Gospel you could be forgiven for thinking Jesus was yet another enigmatic and powerful strongman. He arrives with no word of introduction and begins telling people to follow him, he casts out demons, he speaks in parables which many can’t understand. There is no Christmas story, no family background – who is this man?
One would have thought that a powerful strongman who wanted to rule the world would have given us a bit more background, made more of an announcement. If God exists then why doesn’t he tell us where he is?
But Mark’s Gospel does point us to the Kingship of Christ by making over a third of his story about the passion and death of Jesus Christ. By in effect saying to us, ‘Do you want to see where God is? – He is here amongst the lonely, the despised, the persecuted, the oppressed.’
The message of God is not, ‘look at me, I am all powerful and here is Jesus my king, the strongman leader. No, the message is ‘Do you want to see the victory of Love? Then see what love does in Jesus: The God who created the world comes to sit alongside the poor, the persecuted, the lost.
Today, the last Lamp is evangelism. The Lamp we all run screaming from because we’re horrified of being associated with the Christians who seem to treat Jesus as some kind of magic man, some kind of spiritual strongman who will instantly take away all our problems. We know it doesn’t work like that.
But we need to be wary of opposing Christians who just want to convert people with Christians who just want to help people.
We should be passionate about conversion, but a conversion which is not just about the soul but about how we live with others. Not Christianity as a ticket to heaven but to a relationship which changes all our other relationships. We don’t need to be greedy about getting more people to join our club – that’s not evangelism. We need to get on with showing our solidarity with those in need, with the homeless, with those who find themselves on the margins for whatever reason.
But, and this is the big but, we ought somehow to feel able to give voice to our motives for all this. Sometimes it can feel like our faith is so deep and so inward that we can’t utter any words about it to others. Karl Barth the theologian writes ‘Ask yourself…is your shyness not shyness about emerging from your uncommitted private world? Going on to say that “where the Christian Church does not venture to confess in its own language, it usually does not confess at all. Then it becomes the fellowship of the quiet”
How fair it is to say that Mary and John church has become a fellowship of the quiet? But what does it mean to give voice to the kingship of Christ here in East Oxford?
Jesus in his ministry is always engaging people in the matters of the heart, making relationships with people around the things that matter to them, their need for healing, their bereavement, their tortured minds, Jesus is always making connections with them. And we need to be making connections as well between people but also between the things of the spirit and the practical needs – physical and emotional – of the people we meet.
Sophia turned 17 on Thursday but I still remember taking her when she was about 10 days old to the Church of Christ the King next to the monastery at Mirfield. There was a lovely priest brother, Fr Dominic who worshiped there on occasion and used to visit all the ordinands with apples from the community trees when we first arrived. It was his way of bringing together the religious community with the local church and with the new ordinands. In a small way he was being a sign of reconciliation.
Christ is king because he re-unites humanity with the creator, because he fulfilled the work of reconciliation in his own body. To be evangelists is to be walking signs of the reconciliation that Christ revealed to us. And one of the ways we give voice to our faith is in the Eucharist that we celebrate together every Sunday.
During Advent we are going to use our high altar for communion – An opportunity for us to reflect on the kingship of Christ. Alongside the immanent Jesus in our midst is the transcendent Christ who reigns in the heavens. The journey to God is in many ways an inward journey to the heart but it is also a search for something that is other, which is beyond and outside of us. God calls us to be ‘with and in the processes of the world’ but also to be recognising our dependence on the God who is more than our personal subjective hopes and desires.
I suppose all this is to say I want us to recover our contingency. By that I mean recognising that we are alone, creatures with an uncertain future in an uncertain world. Wittgenstein once said ‘never allow yourself to become too familiar with Holy things’ – and I think he was warning us not to domesticate God.
Part of the Christian life is recognising our distance from God, living with the pain of our need of God even in the midst of suffering.
Jesus is the answer, an answer we can share with others. But his Kingship is not a military victory or a coercive act, it is not a personal will to power. Jesus’ kingship is an act of love, an act which revealed to us the nature of the God who is love. Jesus places himself in the heart of God by going to be in solidarity with those in need. He invites us to follow. The seven lamps so beautifully restored to our sanctuary are not the answer but they are lights on the way to the mystery of God’s love revealed to us in Jesus Christ – our saviour and our King. Amen.