The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evensong      26th November 2017
Christ the King
Jeremy Fletcher

Christ the King – Matthew 28 Matthew 28. 16 – end

Hampstead Evensong 26.11.17

Today the church reflects on Christ the King. This evening we use one of the texts from the Gospels which is most confident in proclaiming Jesus the Christ as being all ruling and all powerful. At the end of Matthew 28 Jesus says: ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” They are Jesus’s last words in Matthew, and we should listen. But we should be careful with the image of kingship they might suggest. 

“All authority…”. I was reminded last week that Hastings Banda, who founded modern Malawi, and died 20 years ago this week, had such absolute power. I’m not sure what sort of GP he was in Kilburn, or whether he claimed absolute control of his patients, but he did so in Nyasaland, and then Malawi, where he was declared President for Life. It is thought that up to 18,000 people died because of his measures. It is impossible to reflect on that and not think of the Zimbabwe of our own day – not least for members of this church who cry for their beloved country. “All authority…” 

What thoughts and images of authority were in the minds of the disciples? Where will their thoughts have gone as they heard those words? They had, after all, seen another side of kingship. Not many days before, the word King was used three times of Jesus – as he was crucified. The soldiers…mocked him…saying ‘Hail, King of the Jews’…over his head they put the charge against him which read ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’….the chief priests and scribes and elders said ‘He saved others, he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel: let him come down from the Cross now’. (Matthew 27)

We are perhaps used to the mocking of the monarchy. For many of us our royal family – and those of other countries, have become a sort of up market soap opera. But the mockery of Jesus is not about the British pageantry and royal babies. It is not about dethroning a dictator who has gone past their sell-by date. It is being challenged by the highest view of Kingship: that the Biblical Kings were the anointed of God.  Kingship had a chequered history in Israel. Samuel warned the people that if they had a King it would be second best, but when David expanded the Kingdom they saw a possible future, and had yearned for it ever since. 

Though many kings had succumbed to the secular, debased and corrupt versions of power which are too familiar to us, they set their ultimate hope on the King who would be the new David, who would restore Israel, who would assure them of God’s eternal presence with them, and arms around them, who would defend their borders. After the Miracle of the 5000 in John, the crowd try to make him their King, but Jesus recognises that their vision has once again been reduced to that of a tribal King in a world of leaders and agreements. Jesus has a different version of kingship to offer…a supreme King, whose reign would transform the world. A king who would serve, not be served. 

It is this which the people cannot stand, and so they attack, and mock. They King they want – the all ruling, all powerful, world conquering leader, is the not the one Jesus offers. They are spiteful, and the Romans contemptuous. They know what power looks like. The mockery is about the wrong view of Kingship, one about power and conquest and lavishness and domination. Not understanding Jesus’s pattern of service and hope and love for the lost and service of the poor, they mock. They dethrone him. We are used to such mockery, such attacking of weakness, such humiliation of leaders not seen to be powerful. The world dethrones Christ everyday.

But in the amazing providence of God the very act of dethroning Christ – the attack, the killing, the making weak, the mocking - is the act which enthrones him forever. ‘When I am lifted up I will draw all people to me’ Jesus has said. The King we proclaim is the one whose rule has outlived the Romans and all the empires which have followed, who is beyond the financial crisis and the fear of plague and virus, who is beyond the effects of political and military upheaval. Jesus’s Kingship is at the very heart of illness and weakness and devastation and poverty. At his weakest point his complete love for all is put on the throne of the Cross. 

Beware then of claiming authority. But in the strength of the love of the crucified Lord, the Lamb who was slain, the servant King, be bold in offering that love and that hope to challenge the powerful and raise the weak. Christ the King leads us to challenge the views of this world, so that all may believe. “All authority has been given to me…Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations”. Be bold, says Christ. I, crucified and risen, am with you. No mockery can conquer that. 


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