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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


26th November 2006

Fr David Shepherd

Christ the King

‘Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”’

Crosses and veils, can they be worn in public? Of late there have been several very public rows about the place of religion in our society. At root they reflect the division between secularists who wish to confine faith to the private, personal sphere and people of faith who wish to give public expression to their faith and in the extreme make public life conform to that faith. Other factors are involved as well of course but religion has re-entered the public realm.

From a Christian perspective we can see from today’s Gospel reading that faith can never be banished to the private and merely personal. Christianity after all centres on the very public death by execution of Jesus Christ. The claims made by Jesus led him to clash with the political and religious authorities of his day. Today it is Pilate who clashes with Jesus. The story has haunted people ever since. It has inspired great works of art and captured the imagination of many. That this is so is because of the cutting questions it raises. We can’t easily escape those questions, we are forced to confront them, and they show us up for whom we are.

At stake is the truth about Jesus’ identity. Is he King of the Jews? Pilate tries to distance himself from Jesus’ evasive answer about the source of the question. He deflects the matter back on to Jewish people that he despises. They in turn wanted Pilate to deal with it. They want him to see Jesus as a threat his authority and to the authority of Rome itself.

Jesus doesn’t give a direct answer to the question about his kingship. It is because he in his person is the answer. Some can receive the truth through faith; other like Pilate and the Jewish establishment are blind to the truth.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. He is not interested in worldly power. Otherwise his followers would attempt to save him by the sword. His kingdom is not from here, by implication it is from God.

Pilate asks Jesus again, ‘So you are a king?’ His reply gets to the crux of the matter. ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Jesus is truth; he confronts us with the truth. Our age of relativism and post modernity is resistant to the concept of truth. Everything is a matter of opinion, all views are valid and all are equally true, none are true or false. Those in positions of power resist the truth because it is threatening to their continuing status.

Jesus is truth. For the last time in his Gospel St. John uses the word truth. Soon Jesus, the way the truth and the life, will be led to his death on the cross, truth in the public place. That death was scandalous, a source of great shame to the followers of Jesus, and yet they were to make great claims about the crucified one. They applied the prophecy of Daniel to Jesus, seeing him as the ancient of days to whom all dominion and glory and kingship has been given, over all peoples, for all time. You can’t get more public than that! St. John the Divine in the Book of Revelation makes similar claims about the universal and eternal rule of Christ who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

The Feast of Christ the King celebrates the Kingship of Christ. Some commentators dislike the use of such language about Jesus. They cannot relate to the use of such imagery. (A cynical aside is that they are often republican Americans still having, as they would say an issue with George III!) Our English familiarity with monarchical imagery doesn’t entirely let us off the hook either. Language about the kingship of Jesus is biblical but also paradoxical. Jesus is king, but a servant king without the trappings of earthly power. His coronation took place on a cross. He was crowned with a crown of thorns. And yet we worship him as king of kings and lord of all.

Pilate’s question to Jesus is a public one. It is addressed to all of us, to the powerful and to the weak. It won’t go away, it concerns the truth. On this feast day we need to let it confront and challenge us. On stir up Sunday we need to let it do just that, stir us up!

‘Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”’

Amen

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