Readings Jeremiah 23.5-8, John 6.5-15
Preacher Canon Robert Titley
Jeremiah voices God’s promise of a great future King; and, centuries later, Jesus seems to his followers to be the promised one. The gospels, however, show Jesus himself as uneasy about being seen with a crown on his head: he proclaims the kingdom of God, but doesn’t proclaim himself as its king. Today, he feeds thousands in the wilderness then immediately heads for the hills. Why? Because, says John, ‘he knew that they were about to take him by force and make him king’. So if we ‘make him king’ in the obvious sense, we shall get him wrong.
But, again, why? Why didn’t Jesus make peoples and nations tremble before him and sort the world out, twenty centuries ago? Why doesn’t God do that now? Why doesn’t the king stop moving in a mysterious way and take power? Because of what God is trying to achieve in us.
We do not do power very well. We misuse it – not just rulers, but all of us. In cultures where democracy has taken root, we find it hard to imagine how great power can be used well, and so we often divide it up. And even that can go wrong. The General Synod of the Church of England was constituted in such a way as to curb over-mighty bishops and oppressive clergy, but last week it was the downtrodden laity who thwarted the overwhelming will of the church and blocked the ordaining of women as bishops. Not surprisingly, those who wield power are often disliked, even hated. Why does the USA – and to an extent the UK – have enemies around the world? Largely because America is (for now) the only true superpower, and Britain used to run an empire; and if you have great power (or used to), then –even if you try to be wise and generous – you will be hated and feared, because people will feel like pawns in your game.
Now God has created us to be not pawns but adult sons and daughters: free, capable of responsibility and grown-up love. And God knows that naked power alone will not bring love to birth. So in coming among us in Jesus, God sets naked power aside. Yes, Jesus is remembered for doing mighty works, but his life begins in the naked neediness of a newborn baby, and ends in the naked suffering of a condemned man, nailed to a cross.
The feast of Christ the King is the last Sunday in the church’s year. Other things need to come first. We can worship our king in truth only when we have first looked into the cattle trough in the Christmas stable and then knelt at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, where we discover an unlikely king, whose throne is a gallows and whose crown is made not of gold but of thorns. He looks like a broken king, yet he lives beyond all deaths, and wins victories that naked power never could. And as we pay him homage, he will teach us to use better the power that is in our hands.
We are slow learners, though. We forget easily, and old habits die hard. So next week a new Christian year will begin, and he will start to teach us afresh.