Long live Christ our King!

A sermon preached by Martin Carr at St George's Campden Hill, 25 November 2012

His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In 1940 Roger Schutz set out from Switzerland to France with a vocation. In the middle of a war which was gripping an entire continent, Roger had a vision of a place of refuge for those oppressed by the conflict. In the small village of Taizé, close to the great monastic town of Cluny, he purchased a house which he opened up to offer hospitality. Among the first to seek shelter at Taizé were Jews fleeing Hitler’s persecution. Roger shared what meagre resources he had with all who came, irrespective of their faith or race. When the war ended, other brothers began to join the community, living together in simple trust in Jesus Christ. The community welcomed Protestants and Catholics. Justice and reconciliation, so much needed in a continent recovering from conflict, were at the core of its mission. The call to hospitality remained, and as the community grew so did the number of pilgrims. In the 1960s the Church of Reconciliation was built by volunteers at the heart of Taizé, where the brother and pilgrims meet three times daily to worship in silence, with simple chants, and using many languages to represent the diversity of the community and those who seek God there. Today Taizé brothers also work in other parts of the world to spread the gospel of peace which was Brother Roger’s vision. 100,000 pilgrims, mainly young people, visit Taizé each year. Taizé prayer is known and loved throughout the world for its simplicity and meditative qualities. At All Hallows church, where I worship when I’m not here in the United Benefice, we meet weekly for Taizé prayer, welcoming visitors from all over London and indeed from around the world to join us in building a kingdom of justice and peace through simplicity of life and trust in God.

One of my favourite chants from the Taizé community is ‘the Kingdom of God’, and its words are these: the kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open in us, the gates of your kingdom. ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asks Jesus. It is the wrong question entirely. Jesus is not an earthly monarch, the ruler of a people or territory. ‘My kingdom is not from this world’ Jesus replies. So what sort of king is Jesus?

Kings, it has to be said, do not get a good press in the Bible. The book of Daniel, from which our Old Testament reading today comes, was written at the time of the tyrannical ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, who had polluted the Jerusalem temple with his own pagan idol. The story of Daniel is cast back into the time of the conquering Babylonian kings Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, in whose times the Jewish people were conquered and their leaders exiled. The book of Revelation, written at a time of persecution by Roman emperors in the early second century, echoes Daniel’s themes. The kings of the present age are corrupt and violent men. But beyond human power, in heaven itself, the true king, God, stands ready to break through and restore justice and peace. Daniel’s vision of a king coming with the clouds of heaven is precisely mirrored in the language of Revelation, which reveals that the King is none other than Jesus Christ himself. Christ is not a tribal monarch, the king of the Jews, but a universal ruler. In the words of St Paul’s letter to the Philippians, ‘at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow’. And unlike the grandeur, wealth and violence of earthly kings, Jesus reigns not from a throne but from the manger, and from the cross. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away; the kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open in us, the gates of your kingdom.

So where, in our church, do we see these kingdom values of justice, peace and joy lived out? It is my privilege to work here at St George’s throughout the week. Every day we gather, sometimes many, sometimes few, to offer prayer and worship. Children gather to play and learn. Adults gather to meet and study. Our building is a place where groups meet to improve mental and physical wellbeing in old age, to work in solidarity to overcome addictions, to open the Scriptures, to raise money for the homeless poor, to make music, to nurture children and young people in faith, to work for peace, to break bread, and to encounter God. These are the works of the kingdom, as in small but significant ways we enable that diverse and messy family which is the human race to grow in love and to become the people God wants us to be. The Church will grow, both in faith and numbers, only if we continue to struggle for these values of human flourishing and, like Brother Roger and those who followed him to Taizé, offer generous hospitality to those who seek our care.

For many of us, this week has not brought the joy of the Holy Spirit, nor a feeling that justice and peace are the values at the heart of the Church of England. The failure of Synod to agree on woman bishops has left us confused, depressed and divided. Some no doubt will be tempted to walk away from the Church. Most will stay, but find that our mission to tell others the good news of Jesus is harder. But, my sisters and brothers, do not lose heart. Christ is King, and God’s kingdom is among us. Christ is King, and in the resurrection his reign of life has been established for ever. Yes, I think we have made a dreadful misjudgement this week, and a lot of prayer and hard work is needed to get the Church back on track. Yet when Brother Roger opened a house at Taizé, war raged across Europe. Roger placed his trust not in human wisdom or effort, for what could one man do against such evil? Roger placed his trust in the cross of Christ. From an instrument of torture and death, our king reigns. We preach Christ crucified, says St Paul to the Corinthians. In acknowledging our human frailty and brokenness, paradoxically our weakness becomes our strength, and from death comes new life.

So let us today place our pain, our anxiety, our burdens, at the foot of the cross, and with Paul proclaim the crucified king to a world and a Church which longs for justice, peace and joy. Let us build in this Benefice a place of welcome and community which is open to all and resounds with God’s love and justice. Come Lord, open in us the gates of your kingdom. Amen, and long live Christ our King!
Holland Park Benefice