This is a sermon for the feast of Christ the King, in the “church up the road.” The Scripture it references is Revelation 1:4b-8.
It’s sometimes tempting, I suspect, to think about titles like “Lord” and “King” for Christ and think that they are a bit old fashioned or medieval; that they might have meant something to people centuries ago when everyone knew what it was to live in feudal obedience to Lords and Kings, but that today, when Her Majesty has no real impact on my day-to-day life in a place like Melbourne, it’s become a bit irrelevant, and that using this kind of language really plays into the stereotype of religion as a hangover from less enlightened times. It might surprise you, then (as it surprised me) to find out that a feast day for “Christ the King” began as recently as 1925; why begin such an observance at a time when Kings generally were on the way out?
In 1925, in Italy, fascism was on the rise. Democracy had just been abolished. The question posed to all Catholics – because Christ the King was originally a Catholic observance, which Anglicans and others adopted later – but the question posed by this new feast was sharp and clear: where do you stand? With fascism or with Christ?
That’s a question which doesn’t date. Political movements come and go, but on all sorts of questions, each of us has to wrestle from time to time with where we stand.
We gather together to support one another as we live out our baptismal commitment to stand with Christ. But what does that mean, in practical terms?
I think we get some good insight into that from the reading we heard today from the Revelation to John. John addressed his account of the revelation to “the seven churches that are in Asia;” to communities of people who had chosen – over against the Roman empire – to stand with Christ, and he wrote to them to encourage them and deepen their understanding of what that meant.
So this passage emphasizes for us that Christ is our creator. He is the Alpha and the Omega, and all things have been created through him and for him; including us. Christ’s work on the cross is not out of keeping with what has gone before; but even as He originally made us, through the cross He continues His work in us, freeing us and bringing all of creation a step closer to its ultimate perfection. To stand with Christ, then, also means allowing God to work in us, so that we can experience that salvation in the most profound way.
More, there is no doubt in this passage that Christ is God Himself. All the fullness of God dwells in Him. Christ is supreme over all the world, the rule of the kings of the earth. There is nothing in existence which is more powerful than He is. There is no other ruler which can withstand Him. There is nothing, ultimately, which can get in the way of His purpose. On the cross Christ allowed himself to be weak and abused, even to die; but He rose, and He has the triumph over all hatred, fear and evil.
Notice that the reading says that “on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” John doesn’t go into great detail, but it seems that these “tribes” refer both to spiritual realities and to human ones. These are things which – like everything else – are created in and for Christ and whose true purpose is to serve Him; when that purpose gets bent out of shape, that’s when they become agents of evil. It’s a mistake to think of this in over-spiritualised terms; Scripture talks about Satan, but most of us meet him not in visions but in the very concrete realities of human oppression, injustice and hurt. Even the church can participate in that evil when we forget that our purpose is in and for Christ. Over against that very solemn warning, though, we need to be encouraged that although these kinds of powers have some limited authority now, it is the work of God in the cross which gives our existence its ultimate shape and end. Which is why even the judgement motifs in this passage are really a way of emphasizing John’s main point, which is salvation and hope.
And this reading talks about the Church as a kingdom and priests serving God; it tells us that ultimately, we belong to Him, and not to anyone else. We have our origins in Him, and also take our identity, our purpose, and our unity from Him. We aren’t always good at unity, but wherever we are reconciled and at peace with one another, that is a true expression of what it means to stand with Christ.
It takes some unpacking, I think, that John here calls us “priests.” It’s not a word he uses much for Christians, and to make sense of what it might mean for us we need to look elsewhere in Scripture. Peter, in his first letter, instructs his readers: “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
This tells us that being priests serving God – standing with Christ, the high priest – is not an individual matter. It is together, corporately, that we are built into a spiritual house, and offer our prayers and praises as a sacrifice acceptable to God.
And it reminds all of us today that praising God, also, is part of what it means to stand with Christ. John does that by punctuating his message with phrases like “to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Glory has two important aspects to it; the sense of light and beauty, and also the sense of praise and honour. We do that by making sure that whatever else is in our worship, we always have some element of praise and giving thanks. And that overflows – or it should – in our lives so that praising God is an attitude which we cultivate throughout the week.
We commit to standing with Christ in His Kingdom, being assured that all other kingdoms, all other allegiances, all other loyalties will pass away; ultimately no other power will stand in the presence of the power of God. Choosing to stand with Christ means allowing ourselves to be under God’s loving reign, and to share in the sure promise of eternal life. Standing in that kingdom means continuing prayers of praise and thanksgiving, prayer for and unity with one another, allowing God to work in us, and trusting in God for eternity. Today, on the feast of Christ the King, I hope we can hold on to all of these as blessings in our life together. Amen.