Christ the King
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whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
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When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on the throne of his glory.
On Monday night I watched a programme on BBC4 about the devasting fire that engulfed the magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame in April 2019. The filmmakers followed the heroic action of the Pompiers de Paris – the Parisian firefighters who battled continuously to get the fire under control. After hours of combat with the ‘enemy’, a word used by the firefighters themselves, there was, alas, no sense of ‘victory’. Control, or lack of it, and the fate of the building which has so come to define the landscape of that great city, and indeed all of France, hung in the balance.
The wooden spire at the height of the cathedral gives way, leaving an inferno in the nave below and the fight continues to save the iconic bell towers that dominate the skyline. In a dramatic turn, the ‘treasures’ of Notre Dame, the holy relics, the precious altar-ware and works of art, were rescued, against all the odds. The tide had changed and the Pompiers declare that they have won the fight – the battle is over. The fire brigade’s motto could not be more appropriate: ‘save or perish’. The temple of God, by his own grace, had been saved. Whilst the events had unfolded, the Rector of Notre Dame, had been watching from a distance with the French President Emmanuel Macron. When the all clear is given they are able to look into the cathedral through the great west doors. All around is devastation, smoke, ash and embers surround the nave with gallons of water drenching every floor. The ancient statue of Madonna and child from which the Cathedral takes its name: ‘Notre Dame’ – Our Lady is safe. The President points to the gilded cross, it is shining ‘it is still intact’ he says. “The cross shines in all its glory, in all its splendour, as if nothing had happened”.
‘The cross stands still whilst the world is turning’. These words from Saint Bruno, are never more appropriate for us in this time, and particularly on this day, when we celebrate Christ the King, his sovereignty, his lordship, his rule. Whilst the fire at Notre Dame seems a long time ago, it does, in many ways, represent what we have been experiencing over the course not only of this most recent lockdown, but the whole of the year.
The similarities are obvious: our heritage and our existence coming under attack from an ‘enemy’. The odds of victory seem stacked against us. Everything possible is thrown into the battle against it: testing, scientific research, lockdown, rhetoric, vaccine development and still the devastation is everywhere to see; the tragic loss of life; the immense strain on the NHS; the loss of freedom; the damage to mental health; large scale unemployment; the economic impact; businesses struggling; disrupted education; isolation and loneliness, the list could continue…
Where does that leave us? In the midst of suffering there is the cross. Like in Notre Dame, even in this moment of chaos, heartache and suffering, the cross remains fixed whilst the world turns through this pandemic. It is ‘intact’ and it bids us to come. The pandemic has forced many people to think about their lives, to think about what is important, and in a year that has seen so much death, the reality of the cross is even more important for us. Whilst there is devastation all around, there is the symbol of God’s love fixed for all eternity. If we think of our own Church, the cross suspended high above the altar, may be one of the highest points in the surrounding area, the cross, literally, stretches over our parish.
In our readings today, for this feast of Christ the King, we hear from the prophet Ezekiel of a God who ‘rescues’ his people in days of ‘cloud and thick darkness’, surely those days are upon us? This King is not one who lords it over his people, this King is not one that is ignorant of the people, this King is a Shepherd a shepherd who gathers and comforts his people. This King is a shepherd who never leaves his people. Ezekiel knew pain, he knew exile, suffering and destruction, and God revealed to him his purpose, that he would ‘save his flock and no longer let them be ravaged’. Jesus, in his coming to earth, saves his people. His kingship is centred on service. His reign is one of salvation. His lordship is one of love. His glory is the cross; the cross that stands fixed whilst the world spins. The motto of the Pompier de Paris was ‘save or perish’. Christ comes to save us in the midst of disaster, so that none may perish. His cross, his perishing upon it, as Saint Paul reminds us in our reading from Ephesians is a true display of God’s power. That power is our hope. Do we have hope? Do we have hope by the power of the cross? Do we have hope that the cross is the means of our salvation? Do we understand that place of his death is the place of our life? Do we know that the cross, the place of pain and destruction is his throne? The King which we celebrate today is a different type of King. He does not ‘give as the world gives’ but gives us what we truly need to survive – his own precious blood. That is our hope – the cross is our hope – because on it is a King who is a Shepherd. Place your trust in him today that whilst the world spins. His cross; the symbol of hope and love of God, stands firm, and that hope and that love is for you.
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.
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