The Reverend Margaret Legg
Stir up Sunday
Stir up Sunday was how the last Sunday before Advent was known when I was a child and it really was when Mum stirred up her Christmas Pudding. This was in the days of the Book of Common Prayer and the Collect begins ‘Stir up we beseech Thee, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people that they may plenteously bring forth the fruit of good works…
Common Worship has not quite abandoned it. It is the Post Communion prayer at the end of the Service. Our focus though is the Feast of Christ the King, was introduced by Pope Pious X1 in 1925. Faced with the growing brutality of Mussolini’s Fascism, he wanted to emphasise Christ’s non-violent kingship and rule.
What sort of kingdom? What sort of King?
Looking at the kingdom first, there’s a clue in our readings.
‘Ruler of the kings of the earth’ we heard in Revelation and in Daniel’s vision, the kingdom comprises all people, nations and languages. It’s fairly standard Bible speak for our term ‘global’. The point is that his Kingdom is not one Empire among many: it is everybody’s space and it is for everybody’s flourishing.
There are no potentially destructive or threatening neighbours; no other power structures to compete against. Imagine what that means in our world today – for North Korea and USA; Palestine and Israel; Russia and cyber warfare - all one Empire for everybody’s flourishing. Dream on…!
Christ’s kingdom in global and permanent
How futile the aspirations of the greatest human kingdoms have been, when seen in the grand sweep of human history. I haven’t yet been to the current Exhibition at the BM ‘I am Ashurbanipal: King of the World, King of Assyria’ a centuries old Empire. In the words of the Curator, ‘he was arguably the most powerful individual on the planet’. It all ended when the Medes and the Persians captured the Assyrian capital, Ninevah (Mosul these days) in 612 BC. Daniel, who was alive during all this, was carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar.
Inclusion is by choice.
Well we’re in no danger of physically being captured by Christ and carried off by force like Daniel. We become Christ’s subjects not by co-ercion but by desire. We have to want to be included. That comes with responsibility, responsibility to show others that they too are invited to join. To show not just those to whom we are instinctively drawn, but also those whom we might avoid or shun. It means letting everyone know there is space for them. Personally I find that challenging. There’s a neighbour who shuffles past my home several times a day going to and from a local coffee shop, where he enjoys a cigarette and a coffee. He appears to be penniless and his appearance bears that out, because en route he begs the cost of his coffee from passers by. At first I ignored him and looked the other way. Then one day I saw a neighbour pop some change into his hands and I felt ashamed. So now I manage, occasionally, to do the same.
Prayer is of help here. When we hold individuals and situations before God in our intercessions, it is a way of opening our hearts to discern how God would have us interact with them. Contemplation is another way of prayer and at yesterday’s Quiet Day we heard how the regular and faithful practice of resting silently in God’s presence, aware of being held in his love, has the potential to change us into, for instance, more peaceful, calm, loving individuals.
The nature of Christ the King
What is the nature of Christ, King of this global, permanent and totally inclusive kingdom?
Pilate tries to narrow down Jesus’s kingship with his query: ‘Are you the King of the Jews’. He hasn’t got the faintest clue really has he!
I really enjoy this bizarre conversation between Jesus and Pilate, the Governor, who runs Judea on behalf of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. The Emperor’s rule was absolute, one of force and fear. There is room for only one king in the Roman Empire and the divine Tiberius already has that position. If Jesus has indeed claimed to be king, as Pilate has been told, he will be executed immediately. That makes Pilate’s life easy. He can just sign the death warrant, get the Jewish leadership off his back That would suit the Jewish authorities too – they don’t want a king like Jesus who subverts their authority, challenges their keeping of the Jewish Law and deliberately flouts it himself, who mixes with outcasts, sinners, tax collectors and other undesirables.
So there’s a lot at stake as they box and cox with their questions and counter questions.
Finally Pilate gets boxed into a corner, hoisted with his own petard, when Jesus points out: ‘You say that I am a king.
Jesus wants to talk about truth, which one might understand as reality.
The truth is that Jesus has much more claim to rule the world than does the Roman Emperor. Tiberius may have power of life and death, but Jesus has power over death. Jesus is a king who rules by peace, not force, by love not fear, by acts of service not oppression.
As subjects of a king such as Christ, this is how we are expected to live.
This has implications for how we spend our money, our time, for our career choices, our voluntary work, the way we relate to people and the way we look after ourselves.
Today we reaffirm the truth that at the heart of the universe is a king who has been from eternity and will be to the end of time; we acknowledge that Christ the King rules over a kingdom which is a force for peace, justice and love and we pray that, as subjects in Christ’s kingdom, this truth may stir us up, so that we have the will and the energy plenteously to bring forth the fruit of good works. Amen