It was my turn to preach this week for the feast of Christ the King. Here’s what I said.
“We do not go to Church; we live in the Church and go into the world”. Words of the Roman Catholic writer Keith Fournier. “We do not go to Church; we live in the Church and go into the world”.
So it’s Sunday morning and the family are milling around getting their breakfast, cereal is spilling on the floor, the radio is booming out music you don’t like, “Are you going to church this morning Mum?”, asks one of your teenagers who is still lolling about in pyjamas. He’s probably hoping you will say “yes” so there will be a couple of hours free of nagging about doing jobs and homework! You pause, and say “No, I’m not going to Church, I’m going Home”. Your puzzled teenager, says “Yea, but you are home”. “No”, you say, “I’m going to my real home, where I live all the time, and I’ll be back here in a couple of hours to face the world!”
If such a conversation ever did take place, by now your teenager would be thinking “this time mum has totally lost it, what is she on about?”
But think about it. Do we “go to church”, visit this building once a week and have our hour or so of religion? Is that how we view it? Probably most of us do most of the time. It maybe our hour of respite in the week or we may view it as the hour to get done and dusted, our hour of doing our duty.
But really church should feel like the core of our life, our true home? Not the building as such, although it might have a strong call to us, but the Church – its people, its ways; its rhythm; its faith – that is where our lives should be lived? Is the Church the Kingdom we live in? Is the Kingdom we live in “out of this world”? Do we live in the Church and go out into the world?
In today’s gospel, Jesus said to Pilate “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate found Jesus’ words just as puzzling as that hypothetical teenager listening to his mother talking about going to her real home.
The Feast of Christ the King comes at the end of the Church’s year. Next Sunday is New Year in the Church. Immediately the church is out of step with the world. We are ending our year nearly six weeks ahead of the country in which we live. And unlike the life we live out in the world, there is no speculation about what events lie ahead of us in the New Year. We know in the church what events we are to live through, the liturgical year is like that. We live its rhythm. We know what’s coming. Every year we live out “The greatest story ever told”.
Let us look back on the last twelve months in the church. The last Sunday of November in 2014 was Advent Sunday, and we began our period of preparation for the Feast of the Nativity. Jesus Christ was born again on 25th December. The three wise men came to the crib at Epiphany, and Jesus was presented in the Temple at Candlemas and we knew for sure then that Jesus came for the whole world. No sooner was that over, than we were here kneeling in penitence for ashes to be put on our foreheads as we began Lent, our time of preparation for the core of the story. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he kept Passover with his disciples on Maundy Thursday. He died on Good Friday, and he was raised to life on Easter Day. 40 days on and he ascended into heaven, and then a week and a bit later we were all here wearing something red as we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
And then the church year went into a bit of a lull, what we call ordinary time, giving us space to follow a gospel through at our service on Sunday morning (this past year it’s been Mark’s Gospel), and we have reflected together on living out the message of the Gospel. And then before we knew it summer had gone, we gave thanks for another harvest and then we celebrated the Feast of All Saints, and remembered the dead at an All Souls Day service. We had entered the Kingdom season for just three short weeks, culminating today in this Feast of Christ the King. That was what it was like from the tail end of 2014 through to now in 2015, and I can guarantee you that that is what is will be like through from now to the tail end of 2016, when we will begin the story all over again. That is of course, unless Jesus returns. It will be same year after year unless Jesus returns. We will repeat the story year on and year out, but always in anticipation of the end of the story. Jesus has died, Jesus has risen and Jesus will come again. The end that we wait for, that we live in anticipation of every day, that Jesus will come again.
Now in one way that makes the church seem very boring. It makes me think of the 1990’s film “Groundhog Day”, where Bill Murray gets in a time loop and lives out the same day over and over. We are in the church in a kind of time loop. We live the same story over and over each year. We live it again each year because it is the greatest story ever told, and great stories bear repeating over and over. But more than that the church gives us this great gift of a different view of time.
I think in our age, and maybe it has been true of every age, time is seen either as a tyrant or an enemy, ruling over us or stealing our youth and opportunities. So on a daily basis many of us run out of time, rushing from one thing to another, crossing stuff off the to do list, and feeling a constant failure. We spend a fortune trying to stave off the passing of time with cosmetics, treatments and surgery. It is estimated that American women have some 6.1 million botox injections into their faces every year. Men are not immune! Look on the internet and you will find the top 10 anti-ageing products every man should own! Top of the list is scalp stimulator/hair revitaliser – I hope you men have all got some at home.
And now in the 21st Century, to make time even more of a tyrant, we have bucket lists. The bucket list really is as new as this century, popularized by the 2007 film of the same name. Things to do before we “kick the bucket”. So we may have 101 on them hanging over us, or in some cases a 1001 things just to be experienced once and ticked off. So a teenager puts her list up on line and already one has been crossed off – it was “falling in love” – been there, done that, got the Tshirt. So sad.
A bucket list might say, go to Midnight Mass at Christmas. Once you’d been that would be that, you’ve seen what it’s like, experienced it – been there, done that, got the T shirt. How strange in a bucket list world to go to church every Christmas, every Easter, perhaps even every Sunday. Even stranger to live your whole life in the Church, in its time, repeating the same things over and over, waiting for an end that never seems to come, but we know will come, and which we expect every day.
Those of us baptized into Jesus Christ, citizens of his Kingdom, who call him Lord and King, view time through a lens of faith. We discover that life is a pilgrimage to Life – Life with a capital L. We are participating in God’s loving plan through his Son Jesus to recreate the entire cosmos, that moment when as St Paul puts it in Romans, “creation itself will be set free.” That’s something for the bucket list “recreate the cosmos”! But that is what we are about, with all those Christians who have gone before us, who we remembered on All Saints Day. We are in it together now. They are with us now. We are living in this Eternity now, this Kingdom now. We discover that not even death can separate us from the love of God or the love of those who have gone before. We tell our story, the greatest story ever told, year on year because it is an eternal story about eternal life, Life with a capital L. And because we live our lives in God’s time, we love repetition, we don’t have to tick things off because we have eternity. We live our lives in the Church, in its time, in its faith, in the love of its faithful people, in anticipation that the world might end today when Jesus returns to set all of creation free.
On the Feast of Christ the King we celebrate the full and final triumph of King Jesus, who lived amongst us, died, but rose again, reigns now in heaven as King of our lives, but will return at the end of all time; who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. In the beginning at Creation there was Jesus, the Word; and at the end there is Jesus, returning in Glory. God’s time is both finite –this world has a beginning and an end; and it is eternal – God is outside time and the new creation with go on and on after Jesus has returned. We live now in God’s Kingdom, the Church, with Jesus as Lord. We go out from the Church to proclaim the Kingdom, working towards that recreation of the Cosmos, which will have its fulfilment at the end of time when Jesus comes again.
Time through the lens of faith means we have immediacy – every day could be the last day, but we also have an eternity – an eternity with God, Life with a capital L.
Living in the Church means taking the liturgical year we have explored this morning into our very being; living out the life of Christ through the church’s year in a mystical way, so that His life becomes our life. If we embrace it then our time becomes God’s time, not tyrant time, but God’s time where repetition is not a waste of time, but instead a continual encounter, through Jesus Christ, with the God who created us and loves us and leads us to Life with a capital L.