Sermon preached on the Feast of Christ the King (25 November 2012) by The Reverend Canon michael Hampel

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12:30pm Eucharist
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5:00pm Evening Prayer
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Sermon preached on the Feast of Christ the King (25 November 2012) by The Reverend Canon michael Hampel

The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel looks at inclusivity, referring to the vote on women bishops and Jesus' representation in Holman Hunt's 'The Light of the World'.

Isaiah 32: 1-8 Revelation 3: 7-end

A sense of urgency rings through this morning’s passage of scripture from the Book of Revelation in that repeated call to the churches to listen to what the Spirit is saying.

Holman Hunt’s great painting ‘The Light of the World’ which hangs in a chapel in the North Transept just over to your left captures something of the need for urgency in that call to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

The painting is itself inspired by words from this same passage of Revelation which was our second lesson this morning: ‘I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.’ And these words are written immediately below the painting.

In the painting, Holman Hunt depicts Christ in a royal robe and crowned with a royal crown woven through with the crown of thorns. Christ the King knocks at the door of our hearts and, in the words of Isaiah, waits to be gracious to us.

But the door at which he stands is overgrown with dead weeds, trailing ivy, and rusting hinges. It’s as if the call of Christ has gone unheeded for generations and the door has become a lifeless entrance.

Think again of the urgency that rings through those words from the Book of Revelation – the same passage that inspired this painting: listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

The painting suggests something of the Church as it is – confirmed in this state by a lack of urgency over the matter of the consecration of women as bishops in the Church of England. The dead weeds and the trailing ivy must be wrenched away from the door and the door opened so that the Light of the World may enlighten our minds and hearts and Christ the King be admitted without further delay.

If God waits to be gracious, then Christ the King will not storm his way into our hearts and lives and that is why the door in Holman Hunt’s painting has no latch or bolt or handle on the outside. Instead, divine sovereignty becomes a catalyst to human responsibility which means that we must open the door from within and my personal belief is that that didn’t happen on Tuesday in the General Synod of the Church of England.

There are wiser voices than mine which will say that it is good to take time to get these things right but I’m mindful of something else in Holman Hunt’s great painting: Jesus’s feet are turned away from the door is if Christ has been knocking for some time and is preparing to leave.

Another king – this time King Solomon – wrote in his Song: Listen! My beloved is knocking. I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and was gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him, but did not find him; I called him, but he gave no answer.

It’s not about following the trends of modern society – although many of those trends, like equality, diversity, and inclusivity, are well-worth following – but it is about proving our confidence in God and our faith in Christ to the world and about being seen to strip away the dead weeds and trailing ivy, to open the door to light and life and let the King of Glory come in.

The royal robe which Holman Hunt depicts about Jesus’s person was based on, of all things, his mother’s table cloth.

When we finally let Jesus come through the locked door of our imagination, he must discover us not still arguing about authority but laying the table for a shared meal – at which he may eat with us, and us with him, now: on earth as it is in heaven.

Let us pray:
By your wounded hands: teach us diligence and generosity.
By your wounded feet: teach us steadfastness and perseverance.
By your wounded and insulted head: teach us patience, clarity and self-mastery.
By your wounded heart: teach us love, teach us love, teach us love.
O King and Saviour.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen.