Sermon preached at Eucharist on, Christ the King, the Sunday next before Advent (25 November 2018) by the Revd Helen O'Sullivan, Chaplain

Today at the Cathedral View More
8:00am Holy Communion
8:45am Morning Prayer
11:15am Sung Eucharist
3:00pm Choral Evensong
5:30pm Eucharist
6:00pm Cathedral closes

Sermon preached at Eucharist on, Christ the King, the Sunday next before Advent (25 November 2018) by the Revd Helen O'Sullivan, Chaplain

The Chaplain reflects on the feast of Christ the King ahead of the new liturgical year and how we can reconfigure our sense of purpose. 

And so, calling to mind his death on the cross, 
his perfect sacrifice made once for the sins of the whole world; 
rejoicing in his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension, 
and looking for his coming in glory, 
we celebrate this memorial of our redemption.

The words that Rosemary will speak shortly during the prayer of consecration, over the bread and the wine, are, I think, perhaps the most precious to me in the whole Eucharist. These words are known technically as the anamnesis and take slightly different forms in each of the Eucharistic prayers, each a recollection of that which was, and is, and ever shall be. But more than a remembering, a remaking, making present, representing in the here and now. And I think this remembering is particularly meaningful in relation to the feast we celebrate today.

The Feast of Christ the King is, in the English Roman Catholic church (the church I grew up in) National Youth Sunday, and it was always the highlight of the year in every way. The last Sunday of the church’s year, the culmination and celebration of all we had done together as a church family over the year, a thanksgiving and, because the young people were responsible for the liturgy for the day, a subversion of the order and familiarity that had been hard won by the clergy over the preceding weeks and months. I may just be looking back with rose tinted spectacles but I really do think I remember rightly that we all loved it, young and old, clergy and laity alike. 

There was something in that annual celebration, which was experienced as liberation from the norms and rules and restraints that we placed upon ourselves for the rest of the year. There was no harm done through this glorious sense of abandon, because the next Sunday, the first in Advent would herald the beginning of a new year and a renewed focus. 

The Feast of Christ the King in the Church of England has always seemed to me a more muted affair and I think that’s shame, it can go almost unnoticed; as likely to be remembered as the Sunday Next before Advent or indeed Stir Up Sunday rather than, as it is in the Catholic church, the Feast of Christ, King of the Universe. 

King of the Universe; there’s a Marvel Comic Super Hero in that title if ever there was one. 

But perhaps ‘stir up’ Sunday is not that far off the mark. Because Christ the King of the Universe, reigns and rules by messing up the order of the world as we know it, by stirring things up. Not by winning votes, or elections, or popular support, or by gaining the acclaim or the support of others by rewarding worldly success or endeavour. Far from it. The kingdom is built on rejection and humiliation. In handing over, in letting go rather than taking control, and in giving until there is nothing more that can be given. 

And so, calling to mind his death on the cross, 
his perfect sacrifice made once for the sins of the whole world; 
rejoicing in his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension, 
and looking for his coming in glory, 
we celebrate this memorial of our redemption.

How is it then that so many of us seem to instantly and far too readily forget what we have promised to remember?

In no time at all we will inevitably revert to measuring our progress in life, and striving to win the admiration or affirmation of others through what we achieve rather than by resting in the redeeming love of God and rejoicing in it and reflecting that same love to those around us. 
The Feast of Christ the King ought to shake us out of our self-imposed bondage to the fruitless ambitions that drive us daily to seek for that which does not and can never satisfy.

What have you and I been redeemed for? What is the gift that we can be to one another, because a gift has to be given to be enjoyed. This Feast is rightly a Feast of thanksgiving, for the inestimable value that Christ, the King of the Universe places upon each one of us - priceless treasures, not to be stored up, but to be given out. 

Do you know your value, do you allow yourself to appreciate the price that was willingly paid - not demanded - but offered for you, for us. 

The thanksgiving that arises from that gift does not need to be, indeed ought not to be anything but relished. 

It need not be justified, or compensated or accounted for, but it ought to be enjoyed with unfettered praise for the God who loves, and in loving, remakes us. 

Human society is transactional and so we struggle relentlessly with the notion of a truly unconditional gift. When someone loves us, or is generous towards us, we inevitably feel a duty towards them in return and often that is exactly what is expected however magnanimous we try to be. 
If a kindness isn’t reciprocated we feel cheated, we take it to heart, we feel taken for granted or slighted. And we suppose or perhaps at least we fear that things probably work the same way with God. God’s generosity towards us leaves many of us, too many of us, feeling unworthy, undeserving, in debt to the extent that we can’t even afford to pay off the interest let alone the capital. And that is not surprising when we think of the words that we say in our worship but remember this is us (human beings) trying to make sense from our human perspective of divine grace. But Christ is King precisely because there was everything to be gained and nothing guaranteed by his giving of himself. A completely unconditional act of love.

We start to run headlong into Advent and preparations for Christmas here on in. Indeed here at the cathedral our preparations are not only well underway but close to complete. But we ought to, I urge you, to give time this week in the celebration and commemoration of this feast, not only to remember, but to reconfigure your sense of purpose and purposefulness not around our earthly purpose of who we seem to be or how we seem to be doing, but around the topsy turvy divine purposes of God. Who loves and loves and loves without any expectations in return.

How might we do that? 

We might start by considering where in our lives we experience that unconditional love that is God’s gift to us and give thanks for it. Whether that is in sharing in the Eucharist more frequently, in recognising the generosity of friends or family, in noticing the confidence of colleagues, or the unexpected kindness of strangers. 

And then we might want to take a look at our own contribution to this divine life giving source, asking ourselves where are we able to stop ourselves from striving to attain, to justify, to prove, to earn - and instead to challenge ourselves to love more, not in response to what we have been given, or might yet receive - because nothing has been demanded in return - but in order to emulate, to copy, and to recreate in our lives the life-giving gift of that love.

That is the heart of the Eucharist to me, the remembering that makes real once again. So tie a knot in your handkerchief or make a note in your diary, or put a notice on the fridge. Remember with thanksgiving the remaking of our souls through the unmaking of our expectations. 

And be gentle with yourself as I try to be too when you and I forget (again), and find ourselves striving (again) for that which will not satisfy, and then remember (again).

Remember that Christ is the King of the Universe, with a power that no earthly authority can come close to claiming, and be thankful. 

For as we heard in our reading from Revelation, to him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.