I wonder if there is a church in the 56 countries of the commonwealth where reference isn’t made to the new King Charles III today, on this day when we remember the Reign of our true King, Christ. It’s surely the case that there won’t be a single person preaching today who has preached on this Sunday in the church year while there is a king on the throne. It’s almost possible that there won’t even be anyone in church, across every country under the reign of the new monarch, who recalls a service celebrating Christ the King, while there is a living human king too. Isn’t that remarkable? So it feels impossible to observe this Sunday without drawing some kind of comparison between the two – even if the similarities begin and end with their title; King.
The coronation of the next King will be a grand affair; a religious service, conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. There will be a huge guest list of the great and the good, and crowds cheering, from all over the world. He will have his queen consort at his side and a weighty solid gold crown on this head and he will be seated on a royal throne. He will be anointed with holy oil, scented with orange, rose, cinnamon and musk, and in his hand will be the orb and sceptre. He will reign as King over 56 countries and 2.5 billion people, and the world will watch it all.
And when we hear all that, in light of this morning’s gospel reading, could the two kingships be more different?
Our King, Christ, was consecrated on a cross at the place called the Skull in a barbaric ceremony carried out by soldiers and guards. At his side were criminals – on his left and his right – and on his head was a crown made of thorns. His throne was a cross. His anointing was with a whip and sour wine. His robes were torn and gambled over and the crowds jeered and spat at him. His hands held no jewels because they were nailed to the cross and he was abandoned by those who promised to be there for him.
This man, this God-man, is beaten and whipped and tortured. He is spat at and stripped naked. He is wrongfully convicted, in a botched trial, deserted by his friends and taken out and killed. With criminals. And he is our King? This is the image of the invisible God? Really?
What are we supposed to do with a King whose throne is a cross and who’s jewels are a crown of thorns? How do we follow and worship a King who looks like he’s losing? And how do we know how to be citizens of this kingdom?
Clearly, Christ’s Kingship, is not like any other. And so, it follows that Christ’s kingdom is not like any other either.
King Charles inherits a kingdom that favours the rich at the cost of the poor. His kingdom puts first those who own much, and excludes those who have little. King Charles’ kingdom is based on merit and wealth – on who has and who has not. It speaks of rights…rights for those who shout the loudest…not righteousness. And as much as he might like to govern with justice, his kingdom seems rather to favour injustice, particularly for those who are most often marginalised and forgotten.
But, in Christ’s kingdom, all are welcome; none are outsiders – there are no borders or passports or walls or fences.
It is a Kingdom of love and mercy, re-creation and peace. It executes righteousness and justice and operates on a currency of redemption and forgiveness.
It is a kingdom that serves the needy and the poor and gives them places of honour. A kingdom that doesn’t dominate, or threaten, or rule by fear.
It is a kingdom where children are educated, and adults have work; where the sick are healed, and the prisoner is visited and set free.
It is a kingdom of life and light and love and freedom; a kingdom of good news, where the hungry are fed and the homeless are housed, where the naked are clothed and the lonely have friends; where prisons and hospitals are empty and the environment is clean and green.
It is a Kingdom whose ruler reigns with kindness and love and is utterly trustworthy.
And following this king is not like being subjects of any other ruler…
Life in the Kingdom of Christ is a powerful rejection of all that is dark and hate-filled.
As people who choose to live in this kingdom and under the rule of Christ the King, we commit to follow the example of our leader; being prepared to stand up for what is true, exercising righteousness and justice, redemption and forgiveness; serving, loving, honouring… And, it is hard, but it’s right. It’s the way of holiness. It is the way of our King and his Kingdom.
And it doesn’t look like royal thrones and glistening robes, crowds of supporters, public holidays, and faces on coins and notes; sometimes it looks like mockery, nakedness, being lifted up on a cross, with a thorn crown and a torrent of abuse, and it leads to death…and we are all invited. But what an invitation?!
It sounds like Charles has the right idea – his kingship sounds glamorous and victorious and way easier. It sounds like he got it right and our Lord got it wrong…except…the longest, the absolute longest that Charles can reign is until the day he dies. That is all. But Christ is king for ever and ever and his kingdom will never end. Charles’ kingdom leads to a definitive ending, but Jesus’ kingdom leads the way to unending paradise.
Christ’s kingdom is here…and it is coming…and you are invited to be citizens of it today and forever. And in this kingdom, the fullness of God is pleased to dwell.
So, having counted the cost, having seen it will demand of you all you have and all you are, having recognised that this road takes you through mockery, pain, and even death, will you take this invitation, because it leads to life; life everlasting for all people, now and forever. Amen.