Christ the King Sunday: New Year’s Eve of the Church Year

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25/11/18
Christ the King

Daniel 7:9-10,13-14
Revelation 1:4-8
John 18:33-37

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.
Amen.

Today is the final Sunday of the church year – this is New Year’s Eve! On this last Sunday before Advent – also known as Christ the King Sunday – we take the opportunity to look at Jesus as King.

This Sunday leads us into the season of Advent – that season of expectation and preparation as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Christ the King is a recent addition to the church calendar – and a Roman Catholic one at that!

Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925 – which is like 5 minutes ago in church time. He did this in response to two issues he was facing. Firstly, the growing secularism after World War 1. The Church was facing a huge crisis of faith and many people left the Church (both Catholic & Protestant) in Europe in the wake of the war. The men had left for war and they didn’t come back; and the women left the church and God.

Secondly, Pope Pius was also dealing with issues in the Catholic church about what authority the Pope had in the civil matters in Rome in the 1920’s. This context led him to establish Christ the King Sunday as a reminder of Jesus’ power and authority above all else. Pope Pius wrote:

‘If to Christ Jesus our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to His dominion; if this power embraces all men, [paraphrasing now] He must reign in our minds, He must reign in our wills, He must reign in our hearts, He must reign in our bodies and in our members as instruments of justice unto God.’

This Sunday was instituted as a reminder about who is really in charge. There are two dimensions to Christ the King Sunday – the first is pointing to the end of time when the kingdom of Jesus will be established in all its fullness to the ends of the earth.

The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden really embraced the final judgement dimension of today as they use to referred to it as the Sunday of Doom. Those cheerful Swedes have since amended their focus to the Return of Christ. Good choice I think – even if only from a PR perspective.

The second dimension of Christ the King Sunday leads us into the season of Advent – the season of expectation and preparation as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus.

I tend to see Christ the King Sunday as New Year’s Eve on the church calendar. New Year starts next week with the first Sunday of Advent. Forget January 1st – December 2nd is where it is at!

Looking back on the year that has just past – I know many people for whom 2018 has been a fair mix of peaks and valleys; much better than 2017. For others it has been personally challenging and difficult to downright horrendous. They are counting the days until it passes. And others for whom it has been full of blessing and delight.

Wherever you find yourself this morning – God bless you! Know that you are loved. It is good to remind ourselves that Jesus is King above all kings; whatever season we are in. We live in the in-between time – the first Advent and the second, the now and the not yet. The new born King has come and yet we wait for His return as the grown-up King.

Christ the King Sunday reminds us that we live in the in-between. Most of us – I would bet – prefer certainty and security to uncertainty and chaos. We like to know where our next meal is coming from, when the next train arrives, that there is money in the bank.

We might even prefer more certainty of Jesus or hold a view of Him that is containable, manageable and fits with our view of the world. If you happened to notice the readings this morning but they come from some of the more difficult bits of the Bible.

The Lectionary for this morning has readings from both Daniel and Revelation which present us with dreams and visions of some very scary things! Luke has Jesus in front of Pilate who is about to condemn him to death and he doesn’t seem to be putting up too much of a defence for himself or acting very king-like.

Revelation is the start of John’s visions while he was an old man exiled on the Greek island of Patmos. John knew Jesus, he was the beloved disciple, he had spent 3 years with him, following him around, listening and learning from him. John was there when Jesus was crucified – a young man probably still a teenager!

Now he is an old man, having lived a life telling people the Good News that he heard and saw when he was with Jesus. In this final event of his life, John is given the most extraordinary visions of what happens when Christ comes again. It is dramatic, it is frightening and quite frankly hard to understand.

John starts with God and Jesus – John knows the grace and peace he extends to others, he knows the faithful witness of Jesus, John knows the love and freedom that comes from the forgiveness of sins. He knows what Jesus did while he was on earth – he was there!

And John sees Jesus coming again – coming with the clouds and every eye will see him. In the first coming, as a baby in the manger, it might seem easy to overlook – but there will be no mistaking this King’s return.

The painting by William Blake ‘The Ancient of Days’ is his interpretation Daniel and Revelations ‘Ancient One’ – this Jesus who will come on clouds descending.

My Advent book for this year is Jane William’s ‘The Art of Advent’ – it is beautiful! She describes Blake as helping us to see what is meant by this phrase ‘Ancient of Days’. This is no old man, but a timeless one, both aged and yet full of vitality.

God is older than time, more ancient that any human thought or life. God is measuring the out the shape of the world in this picture but also measuring to see if the world is measuring up in other ways – to its full potential. This powerful figure is pouring out life into the chaotic darkness around.

John’s Gospel presents us with another vision of Christ the King – maybe one that we are no more comfortable with but maybe more familiar. John gives us a picture of the human Jesus stood before Pilate – tired, beaten, exhausted. Again, not a great picture of a King!

Pilate has been put into a difficult position – he is puzzled over the charges brought against Jesus but has to decide whether Jesus should be sentenced to death or not. As Pilate is trying to work this out he asks Jesus point-blank ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus gives – what was probably a woolly answer ‘My kingdom is not from this world’. It is a bit of a crazy answer!

Pilate takes this as meaning that Jesus admits to being a king. Pilate is probably not sure about what kind of king Jesus is meant to be. He likely doesn’t care – his question is rather more about whether Jesus is challenging his power or not. Is this Jesus supposed to be a king in a military-style to come in and wipe out the enemies (those being the Romans) of the Jewish people? We know the rest of the story – this King that goes on to be crucified. Again, this is not a great or comfortable view of a King!

Both the readings this morning give us two different perspectives on Jesus and his kingship. I wonder if there is one you relate to more deeply than the other? We have the huge vision of John and maybe have a representation in William Blake’s ‘Ancient of Days’. We also have John’s telling of Jesus’ presentation to Pilate. A very human Jesus, on his way to his death. And today we are asked to look ahead to the remembrance of Jesus coming as the baby in the manger.

I think it is really important to our faith to understand how we see Jesus – where do we place him. Is he the tiny baby that comes out only at Christmas for some warm and fuzzy memories? Is the cosmic Jesus a little too different, too distant? What about Jesus the man, the human ‘king’ standing before Pilate.

Christ the King Sunday gives us the opportunity to adjust our eyesight so that we can see Jesus in all his fullness. If we have diminished Him in any way – we can ask for Him to expand into our lives, our relationships and our understanding of who is He. We need Him! We need Him in this church badly!

We share in his Kingship in the practical matters of feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, being present with those in need. We also share in the hope of the King that is to come in all his fullness and glory – both the baby at in the manger and the Son of Man who will return. The Son of Man who will descend of the clouds; who loves us and freed us from our sins and made us to a be a kingdom.

Until then we have to wait and watch. Take the time to be prepared. As we stand on the cusp on another church year – which promises to be eventful – let’s look again at Christ our King.

Amen

Easter Sunday: Restored, Redeemed & Released

Christ is Risen! Alleluia! I can’t stop saying that this morning! This morning’s sermon is of course focused on the empty tomb of Jesus and how 4 people encounter the Risen Christ: Mary Magdalene, John the Beloved Disciple, Peter and James the brother of Jesus.

Easter Sunday – 01/04/18

Isaiah 25:6-9, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

John 20:1-18

Risen Christ,
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts,
that we may seek the good of others
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace,
to the praise of God the Father. Amen

I recently heard about a Curate who was asked to preach on his first Easter Sunday in the Parish. He got into the pulpit, announced that ‘Jesus is Risen. There is nothing more to say.’ And promptly sat back down. While tempting as that may seem – I do have more to say than that.

Jesus is Risen. That is the message of today.

But for Jesus to rise we have to endure the pain of Good Friday, the longing of Easter Saturday to finally get to the joy of Easter Sunday. I know this – and you probably do too. I have talked to a few people this week who would prefer to skip over Good Friday and its focus on Jesus’ death and death more widely. But this doesn’t make it easier!

But first we have to face to the tomb. This morning we will look at the life changing encounters of 4 people with the Risen Jesus. If you have heard this story a thousand times – I urge you to approach the tomb with fresh eyes and ears this morning.

If we believe that on the cross of Good Friday Jesus took on all our sin, shame, fear, anxiety, doubt, loneliness, grief, disappointment – everything that is wrong, and it died with him – then what does the empty tomb of Easter Sunday look like for us?

Mary

In the other Gospel accounts there are a variety of Marys and other women at the tomb that first day; but Mary Magdalene is named in all of them. Mary had gotten to know Jesus and the disciples – as she has been with them. Mary Magdalene was also at the cross and on the first Easter morning she is at the tomb.

Mary goes to the tomb when it was still dark. Darkness in John’s Gospel was his way of indicating confusion, misunderstanding and unbelief. Mary has seen all that has happened in the last few days; yet she doesn’t understand it and she is emotionally overwhelmed.

So overwhelmed that she doesn’t get all the way to the tomb the first time. When she saw that the tomb was open her automatic assumption was that Jesus’ body had been stolen. Then she runs to get Peter and John. Mary is fragile – her grief must have been immense. Her emotional fragility keeps her back.

John

Then we have John, the disciple whom Jesus loved – also the disciple that wrote this account! Tells us twice that he got to the tomb before Peter. But John stops short too – he hesitates. John does get further than Mary – he at least looks in the tomb even though he doesn’t go in.

John’s struggle is deep disappointment. John was loyal, faithful and obedient to the end – only male disciple left at the foot of the cross. All that loyalty, all that faithful service – all for nothing. Maybe John couldn’t face one more disappointment. Maybe John got as far as he could – but not one more step.

Maybe like John you keep praying, serving, doing the stuff but maybe there are not as many victories as you would like. Not willing to risk any more disappointment with life, with people.

Peter

In keeping with his personality – Peter runs right into the tomb. Got there second but the first one in. Peter goes further than Mary and John. Peter is spurred on by guilt and shame. Peter – on his run – is hoping that it is all true – he needs one more chance, needs to be redeemed and start again.

Peter loved Jesus – but when it really really mattered Peter failed Jesus in his denial. We all have had Peter moments. Guilt and shame is exhausting to carry around.

James

You might not have been expecting him! This James is the half-brother of Jesus; the first born of Joseph and Mary. He is not listed in John’s Gospel but Paul includes him as one whom Jesus appeared to.

Jesus appeared to those people who really needed to see Him the most. Mary was emotionally wrecked, John was disappointed; Peter had denied Jesus.

Why James? In the recent Bible Study on the Book of James that some of us participated in and this question was addressed. Jesus’ biological family do not come across particularly well in the Gospels – they don’t believe Him, they are embarrassed by Him; they try to stop Him from doing what he was sent to do.

Anyone with complicated family dynamics will understand this!

James is an unbeliever – a mocking, scorning unbelieving brother of Jesus. Imagine what it might have been like growing up with Jesus? James didn’t get it – despite having grown up with Jesus, seeing first-hand what he was doing. He missed it completely.

So Mary comes to the tomb emotionally fragile and not understanding; John arrives with deep disappointment and Peter gets there spurred on by guilt and shame looking for a fresh start. James – we are not sure when James encounters his Risen brother Jesus. There is no record in the Bible – I think this means that this meeting was private, personal.

Then they all encounter the Risen Jesus. They all go away from their encounters changed, believing. This is how we should come away from encountering the Risen Jesus.

Let’s look at how they went away…

Mary

Mary goes back to the tomb a second time after she gets Peter and John. She is still weeping; still not understanding. She finally looks in the tomb. So disturbed is she that the 2 angels don’t even seem to phase her. Everyone else that encounters angels in the NT react with fear! Even Mary and Joseph. Not Mary Magdalene.

Mary is so distressed that she doesn’t even recognise Jesus when he appears to her – He is the one she is looking for! Until He says her name – Mary! Then it all clicks. She heard the voice of the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep, who knows and calls them by name.

Mary has not been abandoned. Jesus is alive. But she still doesn’t fully understand because she is looking for the body and calls Jesus ‘rabbouni’ – teacher. Jesus is more than that. So he sends her away with the gift of new sight – being able to see the old with the new. Jesus then sends her back to the disciples to explain to them what has happened.

Jesus is more than we think he is. I think sometimes we need a fresh look at Jesus. We can reduce him down to fit our understanding; we can begin to believe in a Jesus of our own making – who likes and hates the same things that we do.

John

John enters the tomb after Peter – but he was the first one there – don’t forget. John was the first one to see the burial linen and the first one to believe.

John’s encounter with the Risen Jesus is to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, believe that a new creation had begun and believe that the world had turned a corner. The placement of the grave clothes for John was all the proof he needed. Why is this important?

If you remember from the story of the raising of Lazarus, he needed someone to untie him; a bit like a mummy and needs to be unbound. Lazarus comes back into a world and would die again. When Jesus came out of the tomb – his strips of linen remain on the bench where he was laid as though his body passed through.

Jesus has gone on through death into a new world, a new creation, a new beyond where death had been defeated and life in fullness could begin at last.  This meant that John could leave his disappointment behind – all that he had done – all the loyalty, faithfulness – was all for something, someone.

Peter

While Peter’s ‘big’ encounter with the Risen Jesus happens on the beach a little while on from today – Peter’s restoration, redemption starts today. He needed the tomb to be empty – for Jesus to have been raised as he said he would be.

Peter comes away from the tomb and it is a new day, a fresh start for him. He could leave his guilt and shame behind.

James

Then he meets Jesus, his brother in those first few days or weeks after the resurrection. James came to realise who Jesus was. Maybe he felt like a fraud, ashamed he didn’t get it sooner. Missed what was in front of his face for all those years.  We like James can miss it too – what has been in front of us all along. We get overly familiar or under-impressed or don’t think it applied to us.

Jesus shows us that the power of the resurrection trumps the power of the past if we’re willing to let it. (Beth Moore). In his meeting with Jesus, James is freed from his past.

So Mary gets to the tomb overwhelmed by grief and emotion, looking for the dead body. She encounters Jesus – goes away knowing that she has not been abandoned and with a new understanding of who Jesus is that she now needs to tell the others about. Jesus is more than enough!

John came disappointed and let down and goes away believing in the Resurrection and who Jesus is. Everything that he had done had meant something, been worth it.

Peter came in burdened with shame and guilt and goes away with a fresh start. In the Acts reading today – we see what Peter went on and did with his fresh start. He told people about Jesus with power and purpose and persuasion. He did it for the rest of his life and was eventually crucified for it – on a cross.

James meets is brother and is freed from the past. His life is on a new course – James remains in Jerusalem, becomes the Bishop and leads the new church there. James would go on to have a huge influence on the church.

The empty tomb proved once and for all that death has been defeated – there is hope beyond the grave. There is Risen life with Jesus for us all.

Whatever condition you find yourself in at the tomb this morning – an encounter with Jesus can change you, heal you, restore, redeem and release you. This is what today is about.

AMEN.