In the lectionary, today is called Christ the King Sunday. It’s the last Sunday before advent. Which mostly means that you have one more week before you have to be worried that you’re Not Ready For Christmas.
And because the liturgical year starts with advent, that makes this (in some ways) the last week of the year.
So if you’re willing, let’s put our reflecting hats on. Last week was the church’s AGM. We reflected on our community, its struggles and successes over the last year. The Annual Report came out, and in its preparation I am sure many of you thought deeply about the year past.
We also elected and affirmed our church council for the new year.We considered our hopes for the year to come.Circles are like that of course – the ending is the beginning, so in all our reflection we also look forward.
One of today’s readings was the praises of Zechariah after the birth of John. Meanwhile, back on December 5th of 2021 we heard Mary’s song, from the same chapter, celebrating her pregnancy. We are back full circle. We are back here, again, ready for advent, for that joyous waiting.
And for this reflection, for the closing week of the liturgical year we are presented with the reminder: Christ is King.
When we are reflecting on key moments of the year, it might be striking to recall that we in fact did get a new King. A less divine one. And so for the first time in this country in a lot of our lifetimes, a King who is not Jesus is back in charge.
I don’t know about you but the term king has definitely had a pretty metaphorical role to me. Kings are for chess boards, for fantasy novels, for Sunday School – stomping around the room to Colin Bunchannan’s Servant King.
In a constitutional monarchy in the Commonwealth in 2022, the King doesn’t feel very in charge. Good Old Charlie feels a lot like a figurehead. A historical remnant. This isn’t a segue to republicanism, but to note that kings, generally, feel very distant from my life. King Charles specifically feels like a symbol not a power. But if Charlie feels like a figurehead, what would it mean to feel like you had a King?
And building from that, does Jesus feel like a King in your life or a figurehead?
When we talk about the Kingdom of God, we can blur a few ideas. We can blur the concept of heaven, of an afterlife, of rapture, apocalypse and rebirth. We can talk about Christians in this world here and now. About community, about the communion of saints. We can talk about the whole world, under God’s domain. I think there is value to allowing these definitions to blur.
In the same way that reflecting on the year flows into reflecting on all the time before that, and where that year came from, and then looking forward to reflect on where we are headed, I think there is value to allowing the Kingdom of God to cover all these ideas. To reflect on what was, and is, and is to come.
One of the best sermons I’ve heard on the kingdom of God was not a sermon really. It was a 5 minute reflection by a camp director at one of the 7am meetings we would hold while the campers were still asleep. He said that the hope of heaven is that the kingdom of God transforms us. Of God’s refining fire that causes us to shed our earthly imperfections. I am sure we have heard that take before.
And he stressed that those imperfections may not be the things we want to shed. He imagined that he would be recreated without his ambition. He told us that he largely likes his ambition, that it makes him better at his job, that this drive is a part of him that he enjoys and is rewarded for. But that when he thought about it further, it probably was not at place in the kingdom of God.
Which led to some discomfort. Would he recognise himself without it? How changed could he be and still really be himself? Are any of us ourselves without our fundamentally human flaws?
I liked this, because he modeled an honest fear that to be a citizen under Christ the King means to lose ourselves. It can be easy, and prideful, to argue that something you see in yourself is not a flaw. It is much harder to say “this is a flaw, but do I like it, and other people like it, and I like that.”
On the flip side, there are some things it can be easy to wish for God to refine away. This year I read a couple of valuable books about disability. One specifically concerned disability justice in the church. It was called “my body is not a prayer request” by Amy Kenny, and is a call to action by a disabled Christian that all churches be better equipped to seek justice in our treatment of her, our treatment of others with disabilities, and our understanding of what it means to be whole, divine, and chosen by God. To be one of God’s people.
Simply due to my age, I am aware that I would be one of the more physically able members of this congregation. And that if I stand here and talk about disability and age and death I am definitely speaking above my station. As always, please let me know if I miss something important, or say something wrong; I would love to hear the expertise of the lives that surround us.
In her book, Amy asks us to question the assumption that King Jesus would refine away disability. She asks: What does it mean to think of your body as whole and good? And in pain? And elderly? And disabled? Does our theology allow for us to hold real, pained, imperfect bodies as whole and good? As the true bodies of citizens of the Kingdom of God?
Two weeks ago, before I’d made myself re-read the lectionary verses for this week or even started to consider what I might speak on today, my Nanna died. She was 92, and quite sick, and so this was not a surprise, and was in some ways a relief. Of course, my feelings about her and the funeral I attended on Thursday will permeate what I have to say today.
Dorothea Swindon, nee Devine was my family matriarch. She is the origin of my love of plants and birds, and the troughline for faith in our family.
Nanna’s death crept up on us. For the last few years, every Christmas I have felt “it is important to be with family this christmas, it could be Nanna’s last”. In April of 2020, when she was turning 90, the family was meant to fly her to Tasmania, where her youngest son lives, to celebrate her birthday together. A last hurrah!
By April of 2020, of course, COVID border closures stopped that plan. Nanna got through Melbourne lockdowns, periods of isolation, and some stays in hospital, and last christmas we completed that last hurrah Tasmania trip. When I reflect on last advent, it is the organisation of this trip that stands out in my mind.
I am extremely grateful for the time I got with her, and the time to mourn her together with my family this week. There was much reflection, circling back over the many years in the life of a great woman. Finding themes of creativity, imagination, sharp wittedness, debate, and pride.
The cycling of the liturgical year is interesting because it doesn’t spiral from Jesus’s birth to death. Easter is quite early, all things considered. But the verses we are working with today do speak to Jesus’s death. Even more so, the fourth reading which we did not cover, is Jesus on the cross speaking to the two thieves. Most of us here today are well churched enough to know how the story of Jesus’s spiraling life goes. As summarised in the apostles creed:
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin, Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell. On the third day He rose again from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
In my life, the idea of a Christ who judges, a Christ who refines, and a Christ who knows better than I do, which are all things I believe, have also been used in slightly different ways for the purpose of delegating those powers to someone. This is, I think, one of the defining tenets of fundamentalism. To take the idea that Christ is King, and empower yourself as a lord or a knight, enforcing what you believe to be Christ’s judgment, Christ’s refining fire. Declaring that someone else is treating Jesus as a figurehead, not a true King, and in doing so giving yourself power over that person.
So it is very important to me that we do not conflate the Kingship of Christ with our own clearsightedness or entitlement to judge.
And at the same time, I do believe we are imperfect. That some of the good news of the Gospel is that Christ the King can transform us. That some of the hard news of the gospel is that Christ the King may transform us away from parts of ourselves that we like. Beyond a superficial understanding of perfected bodies, of disability or age, Jesus contests with the parts of ourselves which are not Christ-like, including those we may like. This applies to each of us, and also to the collective us.
When we reflect on what was, we can look back at our own years, as well as a year of this Church in flux.
When we reflect on what is, we each see ourselves, and also a community.
When we reflect on what is to come, we may each hold very different plans. Together, though, we see the hard work to call a new minister, but more than that the hard work to know ourselves – as we are and as we could be.
Throughout it all, we hold that Christ is King. And we are asking: What does it mean for Jesus to be a King in our lives, not a figurehead?