What I said on Sunday

Here’s what I preached last Sunday, the feast of Christ the King.

Luke 23.33-43

Have some Madeira, m’dear,
I’ve got a small cask of it here.
And once it’s been opened, you know it won’t keep.
Do finish it up. It will help you to sleep.
Have some madeira, m’dear.
It’s really an excellent year.

Many of you will recognise those words from Michael  Flanders and Donald Swann. They’re from their famous song about Madeira, of course. I begin with their song about Madeira because I once drank a glass of it, offered to me a number of years ago by a former curate of this parish that some of you will remember. It was the first glass of Madeira I’d ever had – it’s a drink that is nowhere near as popular today as it used to be. And, I have to say, it was extremely nice, and I’ve had a few more glasses since. But the reason why I mention this glass of Madeira is that, as Flanders and Swan put it, it was from “really an excellent year”. It was bottled in 1845 – a hundred and sixty five years ago. I’ve never drunk anything anywhere near as old before or since.

The people I was with who shared the bottle started to talk about the events of the year 1845 and we quickly realised how lacking our knowledge of that period was. All we could come up with was that it was somewhere between the battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the outbreak of War in Crimea in 1854. I wonder if anyone here knows of anything that happened in 1845? Well, it was the year of the Irish Potato Famine. The first University Boat Race was held over the Putney to Mortlake Course. Cricket was first played at the Kennington Oval. John Henry Newman, in the news again this year of course, converted to Roman Catholicism. The rubber band was invented – one of this country’s great contributions to the world. And Queen Victoria was on the throne.

Queen Victoria had come to the throne in 1837, so she had been on the throne just 8 years when the Madeira was bottled, and what strikes me especially was how different our attitude to royalty is now. Victoria was to become the ruler of the largest empire the world has ever known, and most of her subjects never saw her, or even saw her picture. Had they found themselves in her presence they would have been extremely careful not to put a foot wrong, and, on the whole, Queen Victoria usually got her own way. And as for the kind of publicity members of the royal family get today – well, Queen Victoria would most definitely not have been amused! And she certainly wouldn’t have approved of a future king marrying anyone other than royalty – not even a member of the aristocracy and most definitely not a commoner. Unthinkable!

In recent years, of course, our attitude to royal families has changed considerably. The British royal family, in particular, has been under scrutiny in most countries in the world as people follow their fortunes in tabloid newspapers and glossy magazines. What emerges is that there still exist very high ideals for members of a royal family, and at the same time there is a very critical attitude towards their human weaknesses.

Today we are celebrating the feast of Christ the King – a king very different from the kind of monarch that we usually think about.. Jesus was a man who was both respected and despised. At times, it was almost impossible to see any trace of majesty in him; but even so, he was a king. He is Lord of the Universe. And we, the New Testament tells us, are his brothers and sisters. It is important to realise that as brothers or sisters of the king, we are also members of the royal family. And we are members of his royal family because through our baptism we have become full members of the Lord’s family and therefore we are truly royal people – a royal priesthood the Bible says. And – like members of our own royal family – we have high ideals to live to and official duties to carry out. We are called to love and to serve each other, to work for justice and peace in our world, to relieve the needs of the poor and the suffering, and first and foremost to worship and pray.

However, we are all human. Just look at the royal families which still exist in our age. They fail, their weaknesses often emerge, at times they cannot live up to the ideals expected by those around them. Like them we are also broken and needy people. Those around us are the same. Being part of the kingdom of God means respecting also the brokenness of others. It means being with them in their weakness, even recognising their sovereignty in the midst of much confusion and pain. Think of the good thief hanging beside Jesus on the cross. There wasn’t much in the figure of Jesus, hanging on the cross, that spoke of royalty and kingship. Yet somehow, perhaps intuitively, the good thief recognised it. He honoured Jesus. He asked to be a member of his kingdom. And in return he was promised membership of the royal family of the Lord.

Christ the King is in heaven at the right hand of the Father. But you and I, the members of this royal family are here among his people. Today’s feast challenges us to live out our royal responsibilities and duties as completely as we can. It is ultimately about doing the will of our Father in heaven. For it is only in doing so that we can inherit the kingdom that has been prepared for us.