KINGDOMS & EMPIRES
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON NOVEMBER 23rd, 2008
1 Corinthians 15: 26 “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
On June 6th, 1953, an event took place which fascinated the whole of the world. US Air Force jets took film of this event back to USA within hours of it happening. The whole of Britain stopped for the whole day to watch it on the new contraption called TV. In Luxemburg, so many people called in sick that the government closed down for the day.
This event was the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, as Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and head of the British Commonwealth.
All over the world, nations of which she was the Queen, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Fiji, rejoiced and gave thanks. And for those who remember that event, who can forget the parade of heads of state that day? Such a parade will probably never be seen again. Queen Salote of Tonga became famous.
For Episcopalians in America, and Anglicans throughout the world, this was an exciting event. It wasn’t just because we are Anglophiles and have a particular interest in and fascination with the Royal Family. It was because this young woman of 25, with a tall, handsome husband and 2 small children, was given a Christian Coronation with an ancient ceremony set within a Church of England Eucharist. The words were very familiar to us – because we use them every Sunday.
For Anglo-Catholics, there were extra ceremonies that only we understand. Queen Elizabeth was clothed in a Dalmatic, the vestment of a Deacon – a sign that she was to be a servant of the people. She was also anointed with the oil of Chrism, as happens in Baptism and Confirmation – for she was being endowed with the Holy Spirit, and set apart for a special and unique vocation. At the Offertory, she presented the bread and wine to the altar – a symbol of her own self-offering. Still today you can go to the Tower of London and see all the beautiful and rich vessels used in that wonderful ceremony. And it was all presided over by the chief Bishop of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in magnificent Westminster Abbey – a Church noted and loved by all Anglicans, and which still today offers daily Mass and Evensong.
Monarchies have survived in other European countries, but they have all given up coronation ceremonies and the use of crowns. But not so in England – for there the Monarch is also “Supreme Governor” of the Church of England. And the Church takes its place still as the Church of the nation. Though of course, it is doubtful if anyone takes any notice of the Bishops who sit in the House of Lords! 55 years ago it all seemed relevant, and such mediaeval pageantry was important.
The concept of Christ as King fits in with that event 55 years ago – indeed it goes back to the beginnings of the Church. In the 4th Century, once the Church was free of persecution and became the Religion of the Roman Empire, it was important to proclaim that Christ had superseded the Emperor as King and God – and that all earthly kings were indeed subject to him. It must have seemed to Christians of the time, that what Saint Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians had come true: He had put all his enemies under his feet – and the kingdoms of this world had become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ.
To proclaim this kingdom of Christ, large and beautiful Basilicas and Churches were erected all over the Christian world, and the Church was seen as the embodiment of that kingdom of Christ. As the Empire declined, Popes and Bishops assumed authority of a temporal nature, and the Church became the guardian of civilization.
By the time we get to the middle ages, Bishops were living in palaces – and some were even princes of kingdoms. It seemed that the Church and the kingdom of God were inseparable. Even though the Reformation turned over a lot of the trappings, this identification of the Church with the Kingdom of Christ continued. Though now the Church seemed subject to earthly kings and princes, as they indeed determined the jurisdiction of their Church.
Thus Henry VIII broke from Rome, and the Church of England as an independent part of the Holy Catholic Church was established. But we must not forget that the term “Defender of the Faith” was bestowed on King Henry VIII by the Pope for his defense of the Catholic Faith again the then new teachings of Martin Luther.
These days the idea of a Christian king is not really understood, and the image of Christ as a king is beyond comprehension for many people. Indeed, how effective is a king these days anyway? The concept of absolute power and control has long since vanished from the monarchies of this world.
The fact is the ways of the world are not usually the ways of heaven. Unfortunately, in proclaiming Christ as King, the Church has assumed the trappings of monarchy and kingship – and we may ask how relevant is that anymore?
Such trappings of monarchy and kingship are, never-the-less appropriate within worship – for there we do proclaim Christ as King. So we have beautiful churches, silverware, vestments, robes, and carvings – all made from the finest material, and often generously given. Indeed the Church demands only precious metal and fine linen for the celebration of the Eucharist – nothing but the best for God.
The secular world, however, would point to our Gospel today. This suggests that the marks of the kingdom are not beautiful churches, silver or gold – but service to the poor and those in need. Of course Christ has commanded us to do this, and it is certainly a sign of Christian discipleship – that we should as individuals care for those in need. But such charity is not particularly a Christian value. “Alms for the love of Allah” is a refrain heard in the Holy Land from those who do not acknowledge Christ as their king.
For the Christian the worship of the King, and the assistance of the poor go hand in hand. Because we worship Jesus as our King and Lord here, so we are motivated by our king to go out into the world and serve him in the poor, the lonely, and the unloved.
Ultimately his kingship starts in the heart. They said of Diana, Princess of Wales, that she was the Queen of hearts. But there can only be one King of our hearts – Jesus.
So today, as we celebrate Jesus as King of our hearts and Lord of the Universe, so we adore him in the Eucharist – and particularly at the end of High Mass in the procession of the Sacrament. We adore him as if he were present walking amongst us. And as we receive his Benediction at the end of Mass, our hearts will surely adore him as our God, as our Lord, and as our King.