Christ the King ("Stir up Sunday")
Christ the King Jeremiah 23:1-6 Colossians 1: 11-20 Luke 23: 33-43
Today the Anglican Church celebrates Christ the King Sunday. But it has not always been so. The concept would have horrified Thomas Cranmer, who was Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Henry V111. Thomas Cranmer was responsible for the production of the first Book of Common Prayer. Thomas Cranmer knew who the King was and it was clearly Henry V111 and any other discussion of kingship could very likely have resulted in the loss of the Archbishop’s head. In 1559 there was no Christ the King Sunday. It would have been the Sunday next before Advent and remained so until 1925 when Pope Pius X1 instituted the feast of Christ the King. It was the time of the rise of communism. They had taken over Russia and the Czar had been killed along with all the priest and monks and churches were closed. The Pope saw the threat to the life of the church and instituted the festival of Christ the King that we celebrate have today.
Some of you will know that it is also known as ‘Stir up Sunday.’ Stir up Sunday takes its name from the Post Communion prayer for the Sunday next before Advent that will say later in our worship.
Stir up we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bring forth the fruit of good works, may be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord
This prayer reminds us that our will and God’s will are not always in line with each other. And asks for a stirring up to make it so.
The second reason it is called Stir up Sunday is the fact that this Sunday was generally when the traditional Christmas pudding or fruitcake was started. This activity of stirring-up the ingredients symbolises our hearts and wills being stirred in preparation for Christ’s birth.
Historically, the Christmas pudding was made with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and his disciples, and the stirring was supposed to be done from East to West, in memory of the journey of the Magi. Every member of the family would take a turn at stirring the pudding before it was sealed up ready for cooking, and while they stirred they made a wish, which had to be kept secret if it was to come true. Into the pudding would be stirred a few more wish-making features. A silver coin, ring or thimble, which would be hunted for in each portion on Christmas day.
The concept of the church – that is the body of Christ, namely us – being like a Christmas pudding is quite interesting. We may not be able to name 13 ingredients but we can have a go at some of the essentials. Flour, dried fruit, glace cherries, sugar, spices, alcohol of some description, nuts, suet or some kind of fat like butter. Which one are you? The flour, which is the basic building block of the pudding, the dried fruit that gives flavour but needs some moisture to soften it up a bit, the sweet sticky cherries that make it unctuous. Sugar, rich and dark to add flavour, spices that make it special, alcohol like sherry or port to give that extra richness, or a nut! Lastly the suet or the fat to make it a pudding and not a cake. Take any of those out and it wouldn’t be a proper Christmas pudding. We need all the ingredients mixed or stirred up together. In the same way the church needs each of us with our skills, our faith, our prayers - stirred and mixed together we make up the church. But if we are going to be an effective church there is one the final ingredient that has to be added - the flaming brandy, the spirit of God to set us on fire. We may feel we have had enough stirring of late, what with Brexit and the forthcoming elections and all the other things bringing in change. But stirring is very good for us. The thing that renders the church ineffective is apathy and complacency.
As this is the last Sunday before Advent it is always good for us to look back over the past year.
Do you remember your school reports? For some they were glowing, but for many of us they contained comments like:
Needs to try harder. Spends too time daydreaming, Could do better, has little grasp of basics, and a few more I am sure. It is time for our ‘end of year’ report, but it is not Maths English and French which is under scrutiny but our Spiritual health.
Our Spiritual Health will be assessed under the following headings:
Our love for Jesus Christ and the word of God.
Our love for The Church, the Sacraments and worship
Our love for prayer – and wait for it - Our love for Giving
I don’t know about you but I felt a tad uncomfortable as the list went down. This is a challenge for all of us as members of church.
But it won’t be the teacher saying ‘could do better,’ it is up to us to do the assessment and there are only two responses we can make. It will be either ‘Stir us up O Lord’ or we will walk away and give up, and I hope we don’t want to do that. So, ‘Stir us up’ it is then.
Stir us up to see Christ as King once more.
In the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah, there is the shepherd king seeking the lost sheep, guiding them home, keeping them safe.
The Gospel account of Jesus at his crucifixion, is certainly not what we would expect to see illustrating kingship, power and authority. Here are no fine robes but a naked and scarred body. His crown has no jewels, only vicious thorns. On his hands there are no rings of power, just the nails which fix him to a wooden cross - no golden throne. There are no courtiers or servants around him - just two criminals sharing his fate, and an assorted crowd of soldiers and ghoulish spectators who taunt and mock him.
But before we turn away from this ghastly picture of cruelty and humiliation we see the words "This is the King of the Jews" and we hear the voice of an unlikely believer, "remember me when you come into your kingdom". Someone here has caught a glimpse of the glory that is hidden by the awfulness of this torture. And we hear another voice, the voice of authority coming from the defeat of the cross, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."
We heard the voices of mockery and hate. Now we hear the voices of faith and compassion and it makes us stop and wonder.
Is it possible that in this picture we are getting a glimpse of the sort of kingship that can meet our deepest inner needs, the needs we sometimes daren't even face ourselves and which certainly aren't met by the rulers of this world?
St. Paul knew how to describe Christ the King. In his letter to the Corinthians he writes. ‘In him all things in heaven and earth were created, He is the head of the body of the church, he is the beginning the first born from the dead.’
Today we celebrate the eternal presence of Christ the King in bread and wine. Let us pray that his spirit will make a difference in our lives, bringing us refreshment, peace, the power of love and whatever else our hearts need for the journey that lies ahead.
The final words this morning are from Handel in his magnificent work the Messiah.
"Who is this King of glory?
He is the King of King and Lord of Lords
and he shall reign for ever and ever."