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By Any Other Name
For me the Sunday before Advent is still “Stir-up Sunday”
(and our alternative liturgy at least still has the BCP collect as the post-Communion prayer). 'Christ the King' is an odd phrase if understood as 'Messiah the Messiah', and as I shall try to show, perhaps not so helpful except in some forms of personal devotion.
In the Scriptures, and in Jewish prayer, it is overwhelmingly God who is King, as e.g. in the present form of the parable of the wedding feast (St Matthew 22), and in 1 Timothy that speaks of GOD as 'the king of the ages' (1.17) and 'King of kings' (6.16).
Revelation does speak of Jesus himself as 'King of kings' (17.14 and 19.16), understandably in the world of the Caesars, and) in two passages not I think dominical in their present form) the parable of the sheep and goats identifies 'the son of man' and 'the King', and in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus speaks of his 'kingdom' not of this world.
In the words that follow the BCP Gospel for this Sunday (S. John 6.15), the 'Prophet who should come into the world' withdraws from the crowd, knowing their wish to make him king. Scholars differ as to whether Jesus came to think of himself as the messiah or son of God, or as the king foretold by Jeremiah (23.5) in the BCP 'Epistle' for Stir-up Sunday. His followers thought he was (at least after his resurrection - Acts 2.36) as we believe him to be still. But the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels points us away from himself to God, whom alone we are to serve and worship (St Matthew 4.9), and his parables focus on the 'kingdom of God' or 'of heaven'.
I wonder whether in our present world, when we are so much more aware of other faith traditions, an almost imperialist presentation in hymns and prayers and calendars of Jesus as meant to be the universal king is always wise – except where it is important to emphasise our first loyalty is to God and in turn to his son. I do not even primarily think of God as 'King of the universe' – though I delight in Herbert’s 'King of glory , King of peace' and his 'Teach me, my God and King'. Real kings are still part of our Scriptural history and our cultural and mythological heritage but since we now know in practice only the blessing of constitutional monarchy, we might speak more of the realm and rule - and commonwealth - of God, and not only of God’s kingdom.
(Chaplain) John Bunyan
St John the Baptist's, Canberra, King's Chapel, Boston & St Stephen's
Campbelltown, NSW, Australia
24 November 2014
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