The Pentecost season comes to a climax in the worship of Jesus Christ as King of the Saints and King of His Church. From now the calendar turns a page and begins again to reflect on the earthly life of the Lord from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, his birth and his Ascension. Very soon we will hear again the message of the Angel, “this child will receive the throne of his father David, and of his kingdom there will be no end”. Before we begin Advent we reflect on Christ and his Kingdom.
This important theme brings a smile to my face as I remember my past feeble attempts as an Englishman and subject of “her Britannic Majesty” to explain to Republican citizens in the USA the significance of monarchy. I understood that the foundations of our British monarchy were established by King Alfred the Great [849-899] on a robust Christian foundation with a coronation which was a consecration under God to avoid its going off the rails. Even Church buildings were not simply as meeting places set in a great parking lot, but as a place to house the altar upon which Christ was enthroned as King of the Word and Sacrament. This word kingdom we use so frequently easily overlooking its importance. We say the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”. We hear Jesus in his parables saying “the kingdom of heaven is like…” or his first words after the Baptism, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” [Mark 1; 14-16]. There can be no kingdom without a king and the Church understands that the King is Jesus Christ and we followers are his subjects. This point is not missed by Pontius Pilate who says at the trial “Are you a King?” to which Jesus replies, “My Kingdom is not of this world!” [John 18; 33-36].
Christ is King of the Church but in a very special way, utterly different to the world’s way. St Bernard of Clairvaux in his reflections identifies this as a kingdom of the soul which stands forever as a judgement on the kingdoms of the world, especially those who routinely turn their backs upon God. This King and his kingdom require a turning around by those who seek admission, and so the preaching of Jesus in Mark’s gospel opens with the call “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Some are righteous sheep but others are unrighteous goats. Not everyone who calls Lord, lord will enter” and “those who are not with us are against us”.
The mystic Bernard of Clairvaux [Homily IV] was aware of these stumbling blocks which he prayed should be removed from his soul. He said “I struggle against these, but in as far as I receive help from my Lord Jesus who is my God, I will have no king but Jesus, come then reign in me as my King and my God”. May these words guide us in the turmoil of our times as we look forward to Christ King of Advent and Christmas.
Fr. Geoffrey Neal