As you can imagine at the moment, I feel that I’m living in a sort of no-man’s land, between two worlds. I know I’m going to be moving, and I have to prepare for that, but very soon Christmas will take me in it’s grip, and I have much to do here still.
The world of endings and the world of beginnings, the world of what I hoped to do and what I actually did, and I am somewhere in the middle.
As Christians, we’re used to living on two different worlds – the world of the Kingdom we hope God will establish, of love, and equality and beauty and truth, and the reality of the world in which we live.
And sometimes as Christians we notice that gap very keenly. One thing I noticed recently is how good we are in this country and identifying problems. We can be insightful, forensic, clever, astute, at finding out where the problems in our society, our world, are. Social problems, environmental problems, economic problems, we are genuinely really good at finding out who is to blame, where we have gone wrong, how it was caused.
The only difficulty is that we are not so good at finding the solutions. We leave that sort of thing to those in “authority”, those in power, who are there to make the decisions.
Life has got tough for politicians. We expect more and more from them. And they end up being able to deliver less and less. I was struck recently when I read about the ten year feud between Harold Wilson and Edward Heath, that both of them lost power, lost elections, and yet still retained their position as leader of their party. That could never happen these days. We are too quickly, too easily disillusioned by our politicians.
And, at the risk of sounding “prophetic” – ie saying something that no-one agrees with, it really isn’t their fault. It is the result of the huge amount of expectation, the impossible amount of expectation that we place on politicians. As though merely voting them in is enough for us to have done our part in bringing about an end to social injustice, financial insecurity and the like.
In lots of ways, the feast of Christ the King is exactly about the things of government – authority, and power. One might expect, in a celebration of the King, to talk about his might and power and wisdom and all that, but the reading the lectionary gives us is the only one where Christ’s Kingship is mentioned – at his trial. Where he was the one who was powerless, and those in power clearly won. Yet we talk of Jesus as though he was powerful – King, Lord, Almighty.
One of the robbers who was crucified with him, said, “Why don’t you save us?” And that is a question that generations of people have asked. Why not save us? You’re in charge, you’re the King. Those that mocked Christ were asking an important question. If you are a King, why not come down from the cross? It was Christ’s seeming inability to exercise power which was the reason they didn’t believe in him.
The cry of the robber, “Why not save us?” is one that echoes down through the ages, the cry of the Hebrew slaves, the cry of the Jews in concentration camps, the cry of the Rwandan children, the blacks in South Africa, the cry of every grieving heart. Why does God not come and save us? Why does God not exercise his power, sort things out?
Sometimes it feels as though our attitude to Christ is very like out attitudes to those in power, those leaders. We pray in our intercessions the same way as we speak about politics, saying to God in our prayers, “Here’s the issues. Now we’ve done out bit, we’ve identified the problem. Over to you”. As And on the face of it, God is no better than the politicians. He clearly, on many occasions, fails to sort it out.
This question lies at the very heart of the mystery of the Universe, which is set up in a way that allows such suffering; it is the question. Why do you not sort it out. And the answer Christ gives to the crowd, to the robbers, and to us, is silence.
It is the only answer we can have to the question, “why not save us”. The question of why we suffer, will never be answered in this world. If this is a world where love incarnate is made to suffer and die, it is a world where lots of questions will never be answered. Whether atheists or Christians, we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we do not know why suffering exists, and we never will, until all our sufferings are at an end. That God has shared and does share our pain may be a comfort but it will not take our pain away.
But that should make us look more curiously on this man on the cross, helpless and in pain. What sort of King is this? What sort of Kingdom is this?
It is clearly a Kingdom where the exercise of power is not the definition of the King. Now that’s an easy sentence to say, but it is revolutionary. Christ’s Kingdom is a Kingdom which is not about exercising power. It is not, clearly, about who is in charge. About who is in control. The Kingdoms of this world are like that, and Christ said that his Kingdom was not of this world. In Christ’s Kingdom, there is no-one ordering people about, no hierarchy, no institution in which power resides.
A Kingdom with no power can only be a Kingdom of love. For Love means refusing to exercise force or power over others. Christ on his wooden throne of the cross shows what complete love is like. It is empty of power. To love completely is to give away all power, all control. Love is just not interested in the exercise of power.
We like to find problems, and wait for solutions, but we are called I think, by the Christ who rejected and was rejected by the power institutions of the world, to adopt a different way.
What Christ says to me on this feast of Christ the King, is that we should not be paralysed by problems, and we shouldn’t really expect solutions from any hierarchy either.
The Kingdom of which he is the King is just us. We are his Kingdom, his people, the family of God. Bounded only by love. Not by command and fear and consequence and threat. Just by love.
Now love for me is about people and it is about doing little things. Big problems can paralyse us, but we are called not to sort out the world, just to take the first steps. The battle for the Kingdom is in here, not out there. You don’t have to solve the world’s problems, but you might help your next door neighbour. You don’t have to save the planet single handed, but you could reduce your carbon footprint.
Christianity didn’t take over the world straight after the Resurrection. God didn’t just “step in” and “sort everything out”, he didn’t exercise power. The Pharisees continued practicing their religion until, like all institutions of power, they fell. The Roman Empire covered the globe until it too faded away. Heads were crowned, and heads rolled, Power bases were built up and power bases were destroyed. That’s what happens to power. Tower and Temple fall to dust. God didn’t’ pitch in and destroy those who had killed his son.
But instead, Christianity grew soul by soul, step by step, based not on power, but on the powerless giving which is love. That tells me that every scrap of love is precious. Each loving act, however small is an intrinsic good. And when the world is so full of kindness and love that there is no room for power or hierarchy or authority, then we will be the Kingdom which belongs to Christ. For he is a King worthy of all honour and praise. Amen.