Christ the King
Through the written word, and the spoken word, may we know your Living Word, Jesus Christ, our Savour. Amen. Please be seated.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.
Now what might surprise you is that this feast was only added to the Western liturgical calendar in 1925, when it was celebrated in October, and was only moved to it’s current position on the last day of the Liturgical Year as late as 1969. It might seem strange to us to think that it took the Church 1900 years before it actually got around to adding the celebration to the liturgical calendar, but that’s the way it was; whilst Christians acknowledged Christ as King of Creation, the institutional Church just took it’s time recognising it formally.
Just to put things in to context, the first celebration of the Feast of Christ the King took place less than 10 years after the end of what was still being called ‘the war to end all wars’. Mussolini’s fascist party was in power in Italy. In Germany the leader of a small political party called Adolf Hitler was starting to make a name for himself, and the US was enjoying the ‘Roaring Twenties’, just a few short years before the Great Depression would lay waste to western economies. Here in the UK, government policies were laying the foundations for the 1926 General Strike. All in all, the world was somewhat out of control.
What better time for the Church to formally acknowledge that, despite what’s happening in the world, Jesus Christ is indeed King of the whole universe.
And as we look at the world around us today and consider the upheavals and changes that 2016 has brought us, we might consider that it’s worth our while being reminded that despite everything, Christ is indeed King.
And who better to help us remember than the prophet Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is probably better known for being something of a misery guts than for what he actually said. He’s been called the ‘weeping prophet’, and to call someone a Jeremiah is to basically accuse them of being overly pessimistic. But Jeremiah was a bold and brave prophet; he answered God’s calling and whilst he was not always enthusiastic about what God called him to say to the people, he did so with boldness and ‘said it as it was’ – if you sinned, you were called out even if you were the King.
But tonight’s reading, although it starts harshly, is one in which Jeremiah offers the people a small bit of hope when they were in desperate need of it.
The time to which this refers is a bad and uncertain time for the people of Judah; a smallish nation surrounded by large powers, Judah had had to decide who to support in a period of conflict – Egypt or Babylon. Judah ended up being invaded by Babylon and the Babylonians appointed Zedekiah as King. Unfortunately, Zedekiah chose to turn against Babylon, who then laid siege to Jerusalem. When Zedekiah pleads with God for help in Jeremiah 21, God basically says that you’ve brought this upon yourself, that he will help the Babylonians, and that he’ll hand over Zedekiah and ALL the people to Babylon.
Poor old Zedekiah never really lived up to the meaning behind his name – “The Lord is my righteousness”.
And by the time of tonight’s reading, somewhere around 586BC, Jerusalem was in ruins, Solomon’s temple destroyed, and only a few agricultural workers had been permitted by the Babylonians to stay in the land.
Our reading tonight from Jeremiah starts with the Lord denouncing and accusing those who have been ruling Judah. Let’s remind ourselves of God’s statement through Jeremiah to the people.
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture….Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and not bestow care upon them, I will bestow punishment upon you for the evil done.”
And the Lord isn’t forgetting HIS role in this; he promises that he will gather up the people from where He – the Lord – has driven them, and that he will bring them back and give them leaders – shepherds – who will serve them well, calming their fears and protecting them from harm.
We’re seeing the difference between the ‘bad shepherds’ that ruled during the time that led to the destruction of Judah and the ‘good shepherds’ that the Lord will put in place. Shepherds – Kings – who will genuinely care for the people, who will tend to their needs, who will watch out for the lost and the missing, and who will remove fear and terror from their lives.
Jeremiah is able to give the people a small, but bright, glimmer of hope. Like a patch of blue sky in the grey sky of winter.
“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous branch, a King who will reign wisely, and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called : “The Lord our righteousness.”
This is a messianic passage; the word ‘branch’ here is actually rendered as ‘Messiah’ in some Aramaic paraphrases of this text. The King to come will have all the traits of a good King, and those of a good shepherd, and more.
Although Zedekiah didn’t live up to the meaning of HIS, very similar name, we know that Jesus the Messiah, foretold in this passage, will do what is just and right, and be a shepherd to all his people.
Our own leaders tend, however, to be closer to Zedekiah in their attitudes and behaviours.
The word of the year, apparently, is ‘post-truth’. I have to say that when I first heard this word my eyebrow was raised almost to my hairline…which is quite something for me.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘post truth’ as:
Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief:
‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’
We currently have a period of great uncertainty in politics; a time when if you ask enough of our so-called leaders a question you’ll get any answer you want. I’m sure that we’ll soon have leaders declaiming that ‘black is white…if that’s what you want it to be.’ We have strong leaders who don’t seem to be caring for all their flock; we have others who, shall we say, are true exponents of ‘post-truth’ politics.
At times like this we Christians need to bear in mind that ‘post-truth’ is simply a mealy-mouthed way of saying that our leaders no longer feel they need to be honest with us; that they will not necessarily “reign wisely and do what is right in the land”. Instead, they’re more likely to ‘go with the flow’ and end up being those shepherds that Jeremiah warned us about – the ones who scatter us from our pasture, and who don’t care about us.
At times like this, we must remember that we have one King who is not ‘post-truth’ – He is ‘the truth’. Jeremiah was able to tell the people the there was good news coming.
And tonight, as we celebrate that Christ is indeed King of the Universe, we too can bear in mind that a true good shepherd reigns, and no post-truth tomfoolery can take that away.
Let us pray that the reign of Jesus Christ will live in our hearts and come to our world.
Joe Pritchard – Reader