20 November 2016

I understand that the Queen usually has only one glass of wine at lunch. One day she asked for a second glass. Her famous Mother responded:-

“Do you think that wise, darling – you have to reign all afternoon!”

Speaking of “reigning” today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Perhaps there might be a question of what this means exactly, applied to Jesus.

Through the years, the accounts we have of various Kings reveals characters more infamous than worthy. From the times of the Old Testament down to today, the records show individuals with hands soaked in blood, or immense wealth. Millions of people have suffered from such persons. How then may we consider Jesus with this title?

In the New Testament the belief was that Jesus descended in the tradition of David, anointed as King, with the concepts of priest and messiah but Jesus himself doesn’t seem to clarify, exactly, how he understood this attached to himself. He claimed that his Kingdom was “not of this world” and he spoke of himself as one come not to Rule, not to be served but to serve. Its ambiguity is exposed at Christmas, which resounds with the image of Kingship. How do we experience Christmas? We find a baby crying in a cow-shed.

Interestingly enough, the image that the first Christians adopted to signify who Jesus was, were associated with the belief that he came “to save the lost sheep of Israel – and even all humanity – to take them back to the Father.

The two principle images were the Good Shepherd and the Risen Christ entering the Shadow of the dead – to bring back the departed, beginning from Adam and Eve to all the dead. Holy Saturday, between the cross, the death of Jesus and the Risen Jesus, came to be the most prominent Icon in Eastern Christian Churches. These images were everywhere in the second  and third centuries in the catacombs and baptisteries of the Eastern Mediterranean .

With the Roman and Greek State adopted Christianity as its official religion, there was a change in the images of Christ. The old pastoral image survived, particularly in the Eastern Churches but from the arrival of very large and triumphant baptisteries in the empire the portrait of Jesus began to dominate the apses – with him as Emperor – with the appropriate vesture – seemingly judging humanity.

Now the sheep became the good people, who had kept the Law and who were allowed into heaven whilst the goats were the bad guys, who had failed to keep the Rule and were sent down to Hell. This symbol of reckoning, called significantly the Doom, flooded the Churches of the West. Folk across Europe faced this challenge each time they entered a Church.

These rather different images of Jesus lived together in the Church and the Gospel stores of Luke 15 – the lost coin, the lost sheep – and the Prodigal Son, remained beloved and a central focus for teaching about Jesus. Balancing the image of Law and of Love has remained part of out Christian heritage up to today.

In the world of scholarship and New Testament, the focus of the Triumphant of Jesus Christ was both the Cross and the Resurrection.

In John 12v32 Jesus says “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” and in 20:17 “I ascend unto my Father and to my God and your God”.

In today’s Gospel we see the union of the two images – the one come from God to seek the lost and take them to the Father and the recognition of the kingship of Jesus. Thepentitent thief failed to keep the Law yet when seeking the help of Jesus says “When you come into your kingdom, remember me”. Immediately Jesus is the Good Shepherd returning to the Father – today in  Paradise .

Our Monarch, like David, was anointed with oil and made her vow to be faithful to her role of Queen. She has not only remained faithful to her vows,  she has increasingly revealed how much her faith means to her. So I think we should allow her a second glass of wine.