Christ the King 2019 GSC
Have you ever seen the film ‘Wizard of Oz’? Dorothy finds herself stranded in Oz and needs to get home through the services of the Wizard. After all, as the song goes, he really is a “wizz of a wiz, if ever a wiz there was.” After much effort she finally gets there and it soon becomes apparent he’s a bit of a fraud, or at least he’s a well-intentioned guy but with no real supernatural powers. “I am the great Wizard of Oz,” booms the voice in the vast throne room, until Toto the dog runs behind the curtain and discovers one is in reality a bit of a drip of a man.
What is a real and what is not real? It’s a rather heavy philosophical question for a Sunday evening when it’s already dark but it is surely something appropriate to this Feast of Christ the King. The Feast was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and the desire was to assert the reality of Christ’s sovereignty, a reality few recognised. Pope Pius XI wrote: “Once men recognise, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.”
The difference between what is real and what is not real seems particularly important in society today. Does all it take for someone to become a woman for that person to say that they are a woman? If a politician claims something is fake news, does that automatically mean it wasn’t true even though there might be tangible evidence to the contrary? What does it mean to be in debt when money has become so far removed from anything of tangible worth? Does the photograph we see actually show something that happened or has been edited and doctored?
These can be unsettling times because what seemed so certain can be blown away so quickly. It is a society then surely which is ripe to learn about faith. For though people do not recognise it, we are still having to put our faith in different things just as much as any other society to have lived. And there seems to be such a wide range of interpretations as to what Truth is, that the question that is really honed down to us is the question of what is real.
Jesus is real. We know this on two levels. First, no one can dispute that there was a guy called Jesus who lived two thousand years ago around Jerusalem and who was killed by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate: Josephus and Tacitus are two impartial historians, who had no reason to make it up but testify to this and to the general thrust of the Gospels, which we also know were written within a society with a sophisticated oral tradition within fifty years of Jesus’ death. Absolutely no one disputes this guy existed.
What marks us as Christians out from the rest of the world is to say we also believe Him to be real today, no less real than He was two thousand years ago. Indeed, God has always been real, there was never a time when He did not exist for He is beyond time and the creator of time. It always blows my mind when I start thinking about that and I think it’s great for us to do that some times, just to spend time especially during Mass to remember the God we have come to worship, in whose presence we are is beyond all our imagining.
This makes us different from those odd religious cults, which thrive on brainwashing and which attest as true a reality that is false, usually around leaders and their power. This also makes us different from those who recognise there is a god but who are content to keep Him at arms length and not let their lives be determined by His priorities. In both these instances people are living in the shadow of deception.
The Psalm we heard - often read at funeral Masses and very appropriate for them - was presumably composed so as to be said at the end of a pilgrimage, “I rejoiced when I heard them say, ‘Let us God’s House.’ And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.” The Jews of old were expected to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, especially for Passover, Sukkot (The Festival of Booths), and Shavuot (The Feast of Weeks). And this Psalm encapsulates the feeling of the pilgrim having arrived. When we return from pilgrimages, be it to Lourdes or Walsingham or even the more frequent pilgrimage to God’s House here at the Good Shepherd, when we return we will have memories or something we’ve bought or a Mass Sheet or something like that. We take with us a token of what we experienced there, reminding us that it is indeed real, pointing us to a different reality.
The Cross is where the conflict of realities come to a head. The powers of this world conspire through the religious leaders and the political authorities to condemn the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Life, the King of Heaven and earth. There is this ongoing battle between good and evil that we see being played out in the world and in which we see in our own spiritual and moral lives as well. I always think St Paul speaks of it personally and precisely in Romans 7:19-24 when he writes: “I do not do the good I want … For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind … Wretched that I am!”
Paul concludes that opening up about his struggle with these words: “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And indeed, my brothers and sisters, we need to remember as we make this daily struggle that these two forces at work, good in contrast to bad, care in contrast to indifference, faith in contrast to selfishness, hope in contrast to despair, these two forces are not equal to each otehr! In television programmes and films the battle for good and evil is always tipped in the balance and temporarily good is defeated and then has to come back against the odds to win. Our lives don’t need to look like that because the truth is that love and goodness are always victorious because no one can ever defeat God! Even on the Cross, we see Jesus is pardoning and forgiving the thief who says sorry and admits him to paradise. Evil can’t keep the Lord down even at this moment.
By our kneeling before the Lord at Benediction at the end of Mass this evening we’re committing ourselves to the truths of that different and supreme reality. The choice is always presented to us of whether to bend the knee at the name of Jesus or whether to gaze on as an uncommitted by-stander. Of whether to hallow our lives through worship and service, or to through indolence or indifference to offer ourselves on an alternative course. May Christ’s kingship radiate through our lives this week. Amen.