Another kind of monarchy?

Reign of Christ B – November 24, 2019

Jeremiah 23:1-6 – Psalm 46 – Colossians 1:11-20 – Luke 23.33-43

It is that time of the year, and everyone seems to be talking about it.  The third season of the Crown is out on Netflix, and no news outlet is suddenly royalty free.  And even in Québec, you can’t turn on your radio without hearing some mention or discussion of this blockbuster program.

True that this series following the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Second has been a huge hit since its beginning, two years ago, providing a fictional and romanticised overlay on historic events since her accession to the crown on the death of her father in 1952.  It is certainly providing a voyeuristic glimpse in the life of the British royal family and at the same time perhaps allowing the viewer to ponder on the weight of the office of the Monarch on the person who has to assume it – and the impact on her life, and on the lives of her immediate family, of living out this very singular, if exalted, vocation.

Royalty – British or otherwise – has fascinated people around the world since the beginning of times, and you would only need to survey the number of magazines dedicated to following up the goings on in the lives of royals everywhere to know that this continues to be the case.

They have a quasi-mystical aura and usually the wealth to live lives simply quite beyond the comprehensible for mere human beings.  It can be argued that a constitutional monarchy such as that applied in Britain is a system that has provided stability and structures of government that have passed the test of time.  But there are certainly also many arguments against it.

And whatever the intrinsic value, it is clear that – with royal families – we are confronted with human beings of flesh and blood, with their emotions, ambitions and defects.

Today is the feast of the Reign of Christ, or Christ the King as it is sometimes known, and as a Christian community celebrating our King today, we reflect on very different expressions of power, wealth and duty.

In our Gospel passage today, we hear again of the death of Jesus, as he is crucified in the middle of two criminals.  Despite the sign above his head that reads “This is the King of the Jews”, this is hardly what we would expect to happen to any king – even if history is littered with monarchs who one way or another lost their lives.

Sure, Jesus had talked about his Father’s kingdom much, and had been recruiting followers in order to increase it and make it more prevalent.

But the Kingdom that Jesus had been describing was not a territorial kingdom in the sense commonly understood, nor were the lines of authority those of vassals and serfs to an absolute monarch.

Even as Jesus is slowly dying on the cross, speaking to one of the criminals who recognises that he is not one of them, the meaning comes out clear: Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of love and forgiveness, one into which all are welcome, none are coerced, even if God’s desire is that all should be safely gathered in.

In the text from the prophet Jeremiah this morning, as we hear of his denunciation of Judah’s rulers, we are given pause to think about our own responsibility as shepherds of the people of God.

Jeremiah is very suspicious of king Zedekiah – whose legitimacy was contested – and he is even more worried at the idea that he might be leading another revolt against the Babylonians, leading to more death, destruction and damage than the first.

However, he speaks of the promise of Yahweh to be their new shepherd and gather them from wherever they have been scattered, and to raise for them a new King, a righteous branch of the Davidic tree, who shall execute justice and righteousness in the land

Today, the feast of the Reign of Christ, is the last Sunday in the church year, the culmination for faith communities of all that we have relived in this past cycle together, with its highs and lows, and a time for reflection on the history of our faith since the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the same way as our Christian forebears, we continue to live in challenging times: times when rulers would take us in directions that are likely to cause more harm and disaster than to generate wellbeing and concord for all.  Times when even our own shepherds have divided Christ’s flock and the story of our Kingdom inheritance has been lost, mired in human fallibility.

And yet.  The traditional images that show Christ on the Cross as a king are tremendously powerful.   Here not a broken body torn apart by the crown of throns and the nails, but instead a royal figure in full command of events, taking back divine control over humankind by responding to folly with love.

And so to save us from our own sin.

The criminal on Jesus’ side is promised his place in heaven as he recognises his own sinfulness and acknowledges the reign of Christ.

And we too, as we acknowledge the reign of Christ in our lives, recognise our frailty and look to the strength of the one whose unconditional love give us life over and over again.

As a Cathedral community dedicated to Christ our King, we too are reminded today of the power of cross to continually transform and renew our community life, as we look to our good shepherd to help us too in the responsibilities we have to look and care for the people of God in this time and in this place.

The task at hand for us is a task of grace, as we seek to continually re-focus on God’s kingdom of love and making it visible in our lives within our community and beyond.

Next Sunday, we will be entering the church’s new year on Advent Sunday, a day which will mark the beginning of a new journey, a journey which will remind us of the beginning of the loving intervention of God into human life, into our own life, in the gift of God’s son.

We know that, despite our doubts, our inadequacies and shortcomings, despite our pride and our egoes, God’s promise will be renewed – and that we will meet the God incarnate again, living with that hope of all those who were yearning for the birth of the Messiah.

But today, we give thanks for the evidence of God’s grace at work in our lives individual and corporate, and for the so many signs of the visible presence of God’s reign here at Christ Church Cathedral and wherever we may be.

And we pray for the year ahead, that we may continue to be faithful to our calling as God’s people, looking to expand the reign of Christ in ways beyond imagining.


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