St Francis, Terriers - Christ the King (20.11.2016) Tony Dickinson

We were left last Sunday with “the silence of a dying God”. Today’s Gospel has forcibly directed our attention to the noises surrounding that silence: the jeering of soldiers, the derision of the Jewish leaders, even the desperate mockery of one dying man by another. Gallows humour, indeed.

And in the midst of all that noise, one quiet piece of arrogant sarcasm which carries a double-edged truth that its authors could never have imagined. The charge-sheet nailed over the condemned man’s head: “This is the King of the Jews”.

“This”, this lump of bruised and bleeding flesh, hung up as food for the birds, the kites and crows that prey on carrion – “This is the King of the Jews”. Those words carry a two-fold message for the people and their leaders. First: “Don’t mess with Rome.” Don’t mess with the greatest power of the age. If you do, this is how you will end up. This is how we treat all who threaten the Empire’s dominance. Second: “This is all Judaea is worth.” This is a fitting monarch for an unruly province, a turbulent people who will not bow down before the might of Rome, who will not make the inner submission which guarantees the “Pax Romana”.

So in this situation power politics wins. Jesus is crucified. The Messiah, after all, cannot save himself. And if he cannot save himself, how can he save us? In despair we might turn the Romans’ statement into a question: “This is the King of the Jews?”

Our first reading answers that question before it is asked. Paul, or somebody writing in his name and in his spirit, affirms that in this routine execution the power of God and the pattern of the universe have been uniquely revealed and, what is more, the empires of this world, “whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers”, have been shown up for what they are – emptiness and darkness. Jesus is not only “the King of the Jews”. He is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation”. He is the key to understanding the entire cosmos – “All things have been created through him and for him”. His kingdom does not just embrace the Mediterranean Sea. It embraces the whole of creation.

And it turns every human calculation upside down. God does not zap the oppressor, the mocker, the arrogant scoffer. God submits to be crucified. The power of Rome (and every other empire there has ever been) is not smashed by an opposing power: it is subverted by infinite, unconditional love. That love accepts the cross, it has been wisely said, not in order to change God’s mind about us but in order to change our minds about God.

We live in a world of binary oppositions, which often have no greater depth than the loudly re-bleated slogan of the sheep in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”: “Four legs good. Two legs bad.” We have seen Muslims, Mexicans, refugees, minority groups of all kinds, demonised. We have watched the sad spectacle of white Evangelical Christians in the USA voting on the basis of their skin colour rather than their faith. We have heard blatant promises to use power for the purpose of doing opponents down. We have seen judges doing their job described as “enemies of the people”. The Letter to the Colossians and St Luke’s account of the suffering and death of Jesus pull us back from colluding in such attitudes. They remind us that the cross is God’s instrument for reconciliation and that his response in the face of wrong-doing is to offer forgiveness and hope.

So, today we bring before God our need for healing – not just our own healing, but the healing of relationships, the healing of our own nation, deeply divided by the referendum result, and of others, torn apart by resentment, bitterness and war. We hold all those needs in God’s presence. We ask him to meet them, and to meet us, at our point of need. We pray for the courage to continue the costly resistance against everything, and everyone (however powerful), that debases or diminishes other human beings, reducing them to lumps of flesh hung up as food for the birds that prey on carrion – or labels to be shredded by overweening media. And we do all these things in the name of Jesus the Christ, crucified and risen, not just “King of the Jews”, but King of all creation. To him, with the Father…