GSC 25 November 2018
How often do you ask yourself, “Who is Jesus?” I suspect if you’re anything like me the temptation can be all too often to be complacent in thinking we know the answer to that question - we went to Sunday School when we were a child, after all, or we’ve read the Bible, or we read a blog post about it, or maybe even all three, so of course we know who Jesus is. The danger can be that we fail to keep this relationship fresh. I often think a warning sign can be when someone says, “I know God is with me,” with ever so slightly a confident tone in their voice because it means they’ve either put God in a box and take Him round with them, they’ve controlled and created Him in their own image, or it means they realise it not to be true that He’s anywhere near them and they’re trying to convince themselves. Who is Jesus? Well, today, my friends, we are reminded whether we’re comfortable with it or not, that He is King for we celebrate the Universal and Eternal Kingship of Christ. In particular in three ways:
First, we’re not to be like Pilate and simply become a mouthpiece of other people’s prejudices. Pilate was in many ways in an uncertain position: his power dependent on both the authorities of the Roman Empire but also in keeping the people happy and an unhappy peace had been brokered between the Jews and the Romans. So Jesus interrogates Pilate: “Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?” Jesus, of course, knows the pressure that has been exerted on Pilate. We do well to ask ourselves: when do we act because of other people’s expectations, to keep the peace at home, so as not to rock the boat, to maintain appearance’s sake? From religious observances to the absence of religious observances and from home extensions to the language we use, we feel the pressure of other people on us, a pressure to conform or to rebel against conforming. We don’t have live like that. Any such enslaving of ourselves to others is something we are to break free from as we live our lives as subject of the kingdom of the Saviour.
Secondly, Christ’s kingship means we live revealing His kingdom: “thy kingdom come.” Jesus has to remind Pilate, “Mine is not a kingdom of this world.” And that’s wonderful because it means we don’t have to get bogged down in the things of this world. In contrast, that’s all that Pilate is worried about: what will people think of him? will he be as influential and powerful if he frees the Man of sorrows? We are to tread this earthly life not only looking after our own but finding the life of God in those whom He has created and placed alongside us. All Pilate can do is look at Christ as a slightly amusing puzzle, who’s wasting a bit of his time.
This underscores the distinction made in other readings we heard about the kingdom of Christ being different. The Son of Man in our first reading from Daniel 7 comes from the clouds of Heaven. This is in stark contrast to the four breasts who have come earlier in the chapter: the lion with eagle wings, the bear with three tusks, a leopard with four wings and four heads, the beast with ten horns. These beasts are destroyed with varying speed revealing them to be metaphors of kingdoms of the secular age, of the pagan world, coming and going. As the hymnodist S. Baring-Gould put it, “Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the Church of Jesus constant will remain.” These beasts we are told earlier in Daniel 7 have come up “out of the sea;” in other words, from below. The kingdom Christ ushers is a different to the kingdom of this world functions, different priorities, different beliefs, different behaviour.
The “clouds of Heaven” in which the Son of Man comes might rightly remind us of incense. At Benediction at the end of the Mass, we will place the Lord’s Body, concealed under the form of Bread, in a Monstrance, a brass thing in which we can show the host for us all to adore. The incense reminds us that that which we behold is not from this earth but from a different domain. We will kneel down in worship to show His power is one we are subject to. By doing this we specifically and intentionally don’t kneel down to anything else, not shopping lists, not the demands of families or work colleagues, not our preconceived ideas and prejudices. My friends, that is truly liberating for us, it’s great for us to know we don’t have to measure up to how others think life should look like.
Thirdly, this is reinforced by decent liturgy, what we do as a community of worshippers in Church, Sunday by Sunday, day by day. In the psalm, we heard the sounds of, “The Lord has robed himself with might.” It could be interpreted as what the church has condemned as adoptionism, namely the wrong belief that Jesus became King at some point. We know what the church declares, namely that God was always King and Jesus is God incarnate. Similarly, when we hear in the vision of Daniel, “on Him was conferred sovereignty,” we might think Jesus was not always king. But this is not true, as the psalmist goes on, “from all eternity, O Lord, you are.”
That Psalm of course is meant to be read at the liturgy, our Mass this evening, yes, but also in the liturgies of coronation of old, liturgies in the Temple in Jerusalem. “The Lord has robed himself with might” reminds us that the liturgy makes something real to us that would otherwise be far from us, or concealed. The divine liturgy isn’t make-believe, isn’t self-help, but rather opens up to us a sacramental realm, a world in which historical events of the life of Jesus are opened us for us. It’s yet another wonderful invitation to be nourished, to realise our true identity and to be ourselves caught up in Christ, living out something that is eternal.
That’s part of why the liturgy, the offering of divine service is so important to us as Christians: it’s not just about being taught, nor about being fed, nor about saying prayers we could just as well say at home, it’s about a different reality, one where Christ’s authority isn’t in question at all.
We will meet people this week, my friends, to whom we will need to say, to whom we will need to testify, “The kingdom of Jesus is not a kingdom of this world.” We do this in love, we do it witnessing to eternal truths, not passing fashions. May we never be weak like Pilate and pushed around by others or living up to others’ expectations: let us solely focus on God’s will. In that will we will find a different realm, one not of this world. This other kingdom is revealed to us in the worship we offer this evening as God’s priestly people where the King of Kings invites us to sit and eat with Him and to adore. Amen.