What a week we have had in global politics! Whether you are elated by the election of the new President of the United States of America, or puzzled and disappointed – and both of those responses might be represented in this community of faith, not just one of them – I think that most of us can honestly say that we are surprised by the outcome of the voting by our American brothers and sisters. A friend of mine commented to me on Thursday, that having been an Australian Republican up to this point he was now thinking of joining the movement to preserve the constitutional monarchy here in Australia. You can work out from that response what he thinks about the election of the new American President.
Presidents, like Prime Ministers, come and go. They are able to achieve a great amount of good, and a great amount of harm. The responsibility upon them is heavy and we are reminded to pray for them. But the point is this, that in America, just as it is here in our great nation, there is a democratic process through which people are able to vote for the person that they want to be their leader, for the Party that they want to govern, for the ideals and philosophies that they want to underpin the leadership of their nation, and whilst there are disagreements about the best mechanism for delivering the ‘will of the people’ when they exercise their democratic responsibility to vote, nevertheless – however imperfectly – there is a contest of idea and personalities, and then the view of the people prevails. If people do not like what they get, then there is a further opportunity, down the track, for one President or Prime Minister to be removed, and for another to replace them.
That whole political process of appointing leaders, as good and as necessary as it is, stands in contrast with our focus at this Mass on Jesus Christ the Universal King. If there is one thing worth saying today, which I know is absolutely obvious (but I am going to say it anyway) it is this: we do not celebrate today Jesus the democratically elected leader, or Jesus the one who is acknowledged as the best option by the most number of people. We do not celebrate the winner of a popular contest. We celebrate Jesus, the Universal King.
As we, in the Church, prepare ourselves to start another cycle of Christian living, in a new Christian year beginning on the First Weekend in Advent in a couple of weeks time, we take time in this Kingdom Season, to recall all that God has done for us, and through us in the year that is now passing away. Last weekend, in the First Weekend of the Kingdom Season, Father Peter helped us to reflect on the theme of ‘Christ the King of the Living’, reminding us that our Lord Jesus Christ is risen indeed, and that we like him will rise with a resurrected body like his, and live with him in the everlasting life of God’s embrace. What a hope that is for all of us, that those who are joined with Jesus through Holy Baptism into his death and resurrection will live with him for eternity. What a great reason for our celebrating. But I wonder, how do you respond to this image of Jesus Christ as the King of the Universe?
The life of Christ is book‐ended by kingship. It begins with his kingship, and it ends with his kingship. It is the Magi (the Wise Men), who seeking him at his birth, ask directions for the new‐born King of the Jews, much to the dismay and anxiety of Herod, another king, whose own style of kingship could not have been more different; and at the end of his life, Christ has a notice hammered on to the top of his cross – ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ This is a king who begins his earthly life in a stable and ends it as the victim of a cruel public execution. His own reaction to the question as to whether he was a king, is, at least to Pilate, maddeningly elusive. ‘Are you, or are you not, a king?’ demands Pilate in Saint John’s Gospel. The answer from Jesus does not reassure the troubled Roman leader: ‘My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, then I would have a whole crowd of people fighting for me, but it isn’t. My kingly role is to bear witness to the truth.’
Today, in this Second Weekend of the Kingdom Season, we are called to reflect on this theme of ‘Christ the King of Truth’. What is truth? It is such a difficult concept for us to embrace in our modern living. In a world, and indeed in a city, where there is such wonderful diversity of backgrounds, beliefs and understandings – no longer insular and monochrome – truth is a great challenge for us; and so without really thinking about it we mix up truth and opinion as if they were the same thing. Because I have this or that opinion, this is my truth; and if you have a different view then that will be your truth – as if truth is something that we personally own and can even invent for ourselves. Not so says the Gospel of Jesus, not so says the Church that bears his name. Gospel truth is not a democratic process. Gospel truth is not a question of majority rules. Truth is truth even if no one believes it. A lie is a lie even if everyone believes it.
Remember the palm branches, waved so enthusiastically on that first Palm Sunday, to welcome Jesus as the longed for King as he enters Jerusalem. It takes just a day for those shouts of ‘hosanna’ to be turned to jeers of ‘crucify him’. The Kingship of Christ is not a matter of popular acclaim. Jesus is the Universal King not because we crown him as such, but because he is, whether we acknowledge it or not. The thing about truth is that it is either true or it isn’t. I might agree with it, or I might not agree with it, but that it is neither here nor there. My view does not make it more or less true than it already is. And that is how it is with the Kingship of Christ as well.
Jesus Christ is not the King of the Universe because you and I have chosen to believe that he is. He is the King because he is the King – whether I know about it, or believe it, or understand it or not. There is an old rhyme that I was taught in Sunday School, perhaps you were as well, that encapsulates this simply: “If Jesus is not King of all, then Jesus is not King at all!” What we celebrate in these last weeks of the Christian year is that Jesus is the King, the King of the Universe, reigning above all, in a Kingdom that we are called to share in. But if we choose not to participate, not to follow him loyally, not to bow our knee to his royal reign, then that will not make him any less the King, it will just indicate our disobedience to his plan for us.
So the heart of the matter, the truth of the Gospel is this: Jesus is King whether we acknowledge him as the King or not. Whether we come to Church or not Jesus is King, whether we faithfully fashion our lives around his Gospel or not Jesus is King, we don’t vote to make him so by our presence here or by our actions. He is not the King because we somehow elected him, because we chose him. He is the King because he is the King.
During these three weekends of the ‘Kingdom Season’ we return to wearing the red vestments of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – those great days of Holy Week when we remember together the Passion and death of Jesus, the same red that we wear when we honour and celebrate the lives of Christian martyrs who have laid down their lives as witnesses of the Gospel. We do this because we remember in this Kingdom Season that even if at some point in the future no one on earth acknowledges his Kingship, Jesus will still be King, worshipped and adored by the great heavenly host. After all, that was how it was during his earthly ministry. There were moments when he was rejected by everyone, but that did not alter the truth of his Kingship, and as our Gospel reading makes clear, the path of those who follow him is one of perseverance despite even persecution in a world that may not acknowledge his Kingly rule.
This is our God, the Servant King, he calls us now to follow him, to bring our lives as a daily offering of worship to the Servant King.
Christ the King of Truth. Come, let us adore him.