Christ the King, a service of wholeness and healing, and the pain over the General Synod’s vote (and Skyfall!). This sermon was my attempt to talk about those things…
I found Brueggemann’s commentary on Jeremiah, Exile and Homecoming, the NIV Application Commentary on Luke by Darrell Brock, and the Wikipedia article on Shalom all helpful.
Shalom; Readings: Jeremiah 33:6-16; Luke 9:1-11
Today is the last Sunday of the Church’s year. Next Sunday we begin again on Advent Sunday, looking forward to the arrival of Emmanuel, God with us. And this Sunday is the festival of Christ the King. During the church’s year we have journeyed through Christ’s birth, his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and on, past Pentecost, when God’s kingdom was revealed through his gift of the Spirit to all believers. During this year Emmanuel church has travelled through the worry of not having a vicar, the celebration of having a new appointment announced, the hope as the new vicar arrived and now, 8 months on, to the reality of me being in post.
But, here we are, together, at the end of the Church’s year to celebrate Christ as King. And to celebrate Christ the King during a wholeness and healing service. Which, as we heard in the readings, is entirely appropriate.
The first reading we heard was from the prophet Jeremiah. He had the unenviable task of telling the people of Jerusalem that their city, where the presence of God was, where God’s Temple was, that this holy city was going to be destroyed. And it was going to be destroyed because of their complacency, because they did not follow what God was calling them to do. But, in the passage that we heard Jeremiah also tells the people of Jerusalem that the destruction is not the end of the story.
Jeremiah holds out a vision of the future where there is restoration, health and healing, abundant peace, security and prosperity, where there is joy and gladness, praise and thanks. It’s an inspiring vision which can be summed up in one word. That word is shalom. It really means all those things that I’ve mentioned. Shalom is about wholeness, completeness; and so also means peace, restoration, healing. Shalom is about the wholeness of the individual, about the wholeness of the community, and yes, about the wholeness of creation.
We watched the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, this week. It was great, one of the best Bond films. There is, of course, the usual scene where the villain has Bond in his power and shows him how powerful he is. In Skyfall, the villain, Raoul Silva shows Bond the computers which give him the capability to destroy civilisation. “Everyone needs a hobby” Bond quips. “What’s yours?” asks Silva. And Bond replies with one word: “Resurrection”. I don’t think I’m giving anything away to say that Bond does of course bring about resurrection, the resurrection of order from the chaos that Silva has caused, the resurrection of hope which Silva has taken away, and the triumph of good over evil. That’s the basic story of most of the Bond films, and of many other films as well. Because, it’s a basic human desire that we have. We long for goodness to triumph over evil, for order to remove chaos, for resurrection, for wholeness.
And that is precisely what we heard about in the reading from Luke. We heard about Jesus sending out his disciples to bring shalom to the world. Jesus sends out the Twelve with his power and authority to bring wholeness and healing, to preach the kingdom of God. These things are deeply linked, because they’re about bringing God’s kingdom in word and in deed. As Christians we have a tendency to focus on either preaching the gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God, or to focus on how we can bring about wholeness to our broken world. But, this passage starts with Jesus sending out the Twelve to do both and ends with Jesus himself speaking to the crowds about the kingdom of God and healing those who need healing. Both are important, both need the empowering of the Holy Spirit to be done effectively and in line with God’s will.
Jesus sends us out with his power and authority, given through the Holy Spirit, to bring wholeness, to bring shalom, to preach the kingdom of God. And part of that shalom is still healing, part of what the kingdom that Christ brought in is healing, is the physical restoration to wholeness. And that will happen. Although, unfortunately, not always now, not always in the way that we want or pray or hope for. But wholeness is part of the coming kingdom of Christ, the kingdom that is here, but not yet fully here.
I think that one of the reasons that many people have reacted with so much hurt and anger to the decision of the General Synod this week was that for many of us that decision would have been about bringing greater wholeness to our world. I know that many of my female clergy colleagues have felt damaged and devalued by the vote. Not least because this wasn’t about the principle of women bishops but about how to implement women bishops in practice. I know that there may well be people here who are against women bishops or are at least uneasy with the thought. That was why Synod has gone to considerable lengths to try to frame the legislation in such a way as to accommodate those who in conscience could not accept the already-agreed principle. But, this vote has damaged the chances of this, as much as it has caused damage to those on the other side of the debate. Wherever you stand on this issue, it’s important to recognise that this vote has caused damage to our Church, which is the opposite of our vocation to bring wholeness and healing to God’s creation. So, in our prayers one of the things that you might want to offer to God for wholeness and healing might very well be the Church of England. It certainly will be for me.
In Skyfall, James Bond is once again assumed to be dead. But, despite M having to write his obituary, Bond of course turns up again. I’m not giving anything away that isn’t in the trailer. In the same way, the Church of England has had its obituary written this week. Like Bond, though, we are still reporting for duty, damaged, below our best, but still here. And, unlike Bond, resurrection isn’t our hobby, it’s our foundation. God promises us wholeness and healing even when the damage is self-inflicted. God sends us his Holy Spirit to empower us, to bring wholeness to our lives and to the lives of those around us.
The reading from Jeremiah ended with a promise that we’ll be hearing again in the coming weeks, the promise that God would send a king. And that promised king will do what is just and right. In other words the promised king will bring wholeness and healing. That’s what we celebrate at both Christmas and at Easter, the coming of Christ as King, bringing his kingdom, his shalom, his triumph of good over evil. And to highlight that in some churches they have a different image to the one that we are perhaps more used of Christ on the cross. We are probably more used to the picture of Christ on the cross in agony, naked, bleeding and dying. But, in some churches they show a very different picture of Christ. They show Christ on the cross, but crowned and clothed in royal robes and with arms almost outstretched in blessing.
It wasn’t anything like this of course, but it is a powerful image of what Christ the king is like; suffering and enthroned, to bring us holy, pure and whole into God’s presence. To bring the whole of creation restored to fullness into God’s kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit which he sends to help us.
Next Sunday we will start to hear again the story of Christ the King. We are going to look for a king in a stable, a king eating with the outcasts of society, a king on a cross, a king who is raised from the dead but whose body still bears the wounds, a king who takes that wounded yet glorified body to heaven. If we want to understand Christ the king we need to listen hard to that story, familiar as it may be, and in this coming year let our understanding of kingship be re-defined. And, right at the heart of the story of Christ the king is the hope of peace on earth, which is the shalom of God. Amen.