theunfamiliarname

Preparing for Christ the King B

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2009 at 12:13 am

I have a memory of a Sunday morning radio story – read, I think, by Danny Kaye
that seems to resonate with this great Christological image that closes the Christian liturgical year.

A story by – of all people – Oscar Wilde.
The Happy Prince.  In a highly edited form it reads:

HIGH above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince.
He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold,
for eyes he had two bright sapphires,
and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.
One night there flew over the city a little Swallow.
His friends had gone away to Egypt six weeks before, but he stayed behind.
And now he lands between the golden feet of the Happy Prince.
The Happy Prince had once lived a very easy life, contended and powerful,
but now the statue of the Happy Prince, it turns out, is weeping
– because he can see the sadness and the poverty of the people in his city.
He begs the swallow to stay with him,
to take the jewel from his sword and the gold from his body,
even to pluck out the sapphires from his eyes and give them to the poor.
Time and again the Happy Prince asks the swallow
to take his treasure to the poor,
even though the Swallow has to fly off to join his friends in Egypt for the winter.

Eventually the Swallow realises he cannot leave the Happy Prince,
now blind and naked. So he stays until the snow comes.
And finally the little bird dies in the cold snow.
At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the statue’s leaden heart had snapped right in two.
The next day the city authorities pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince.
No longer beautiful, he was no longer needed.
And the lead of the Prince’s broken heart was thrown on the rubbish heap.
“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of the Angels; and the Angel brought to God the leaden heart and the dead bird.
“You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.”

It’s a wonderful story, for children and adults.
It brings into sharp relief some of our thoughts and preconceptions
about rulers- princes and kings.
Some of the rather disembodied images
we try to connect with this Feast of Christ the King.

At this Feast we acknowledge Jesus as the ruler of heaven and earth,
the Lord, the King, triumphant, enthroned in heaven,
yet Lord too of all the earth,
the King of Kings.

In this last Sunday of the Church’s year we celebrate the breadth of the claims
we, as Christians make about this Jesus of Nazareth.

Today’s Gospel account of Jesus before Pilate, as on the cross,
is a mockery of Kingship and power,
but it is also an expression of a rule, a power and a kingdom
beyond the imagination of the prelates and politicians of this world.

Christus Rex, Christ Church, Pelham

The image of the Christus Rex, Christ the King,
the figure of Christ literally enthroned on the Cross,
is a profound reappraisal of the crucifix,
a dying, emaciated figure nailed to the Cross.

It takes a fair bit of effort to recognise
that they are both speaking of the same event.

Which, though, asks us the most searching questions
about who we are and who this God is we worship?
About what it means to live and die, to suffer and to hope?
What kind of a King is this? Where is the Kingdom?

In John’s Gospel it is mocked.
The whole point of Pilate’s questioning
and that title that was hung above the cross
is that there was no ‘King of the Jews’.
Rome was crucifying hope and identity together with Our Lord.

Yet somehow in the cross this ancient metaphor of God as King
finds new expression.
As the happy prince was fully given to the sorrow he saw around him,
the power of God is fully realised in the weakness of the cross.

And in weakness and suffering we can recognise the legitimacy,
the humanity and divinity of our king.

Amidst the carnage of the First World War,
as people sought to make sense of the failure of leadership,
kings and kaisers, politicians and preachers,
Edward Shillito wrote these words:
‘The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.’

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