We concluded the church year with the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King. We were thrilled to welcome the Young Voices from Saint Michael's Church School. Fr Bosco Peters presided and preached at the 10am Mass. Our Gospel Reading was taken from Luke 23: 33–43.
Read on for the sermon and a video of the service.
There’s an old saying “elect a clown expect a circus”. It used to be a bit of a funny old saying. In more recent years, it hasn’t been so funny anymore has it?
The humour I grew up with was full of sarcasm and irony – it was Monty Python; the Goon show; that kind of humour.
We still see sarcasm and irony in relation to politics in the political cartoon daily in the Press - taking the mickey out of politics; you might have seen Jeff Bell’s strong political cartoon in yesterday’s Press. But many – I would say most people I meet nowadays struggle to find irony funny. That’s because so much that should be irony is now what actually happens.
In social media you have to add forward slash s at the end of a message to indicate that you are being sarcastic:
“One good thing about you being wrong is the joy it brings to others. /s”
“It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others. /s”
I’ve heard of people resorting to having a sarcasm bell. Every time they say something sarcastic, they ring the bell – so people know it’s sarcasm.
If we have a sarcasm bell, I think we also need an irony gong. Jesus constantly uses irony – and we so often miss it. Jesus needs an irony gong.
Jesus had a wicked sense of humour – Simon, the flaky friend of his who clearly had no spine, he nicknamed Rocky – Peter. As a carpenter, Jesus told people to take the log of wood out which he said was stuck in their own eyes before they start trying to take the little splinter of wood out of someone else’s eye. What an image! Strike the irony gong!
There’s actually a huge gong sitting in our sacristy – I was thinking of bringing it up into the pulpit and to strike it to make my point; but I wouldn’t fit with it here.
Then I thought of having it by one of the servers – or by Helen – to strike as a sermon illustration; and to wake people up. But I thought some of you might think it’s disrespectful. Some of you will remember it being used in worship here. There’s a wonderful story of Canon Orange – now Canon Orange was, shall we say, at the other end of the spectrum from Catholicism in the Anglican range, and he was in the sanctuary here one time, and when the gong was struck, he called out, “All change for Rome!”
Anglo-Catholicism has this wonderful dry sense of humour.
When you come into this church – the leading Anglo catholic church at least in NZ – there’s a high-profile notice at every entrance: “Smoke Free at all times”. Strike that irony gong! Actually, come to think of it: I suspect I am reading those notices incorrectly. I suspect it is saying that smoke is free here. “Smoke - Free at all times”.
There’s irony about celebrating the feast of Christ the King. A bit of history: On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the on the door of the church in Wittenberg. This began the Reformation. So, in many Reformation churches, the last Sunday in October is, hence, celebrated as Reformation Sunday. In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King - on that same Sunday. Sort of: a Counter-Reformation Sunday. Sort of: you may have Martin Luther; but we’ve got Christ the King! Hear that gong!
Vatican II launched a new ecumenical culture, and moved the Solemnity of Christ the King to the last Sunday of the Church Year – and lots of denominations have taken this on.
But the concept of Christ the King is itself irony. Sound the irony gong! Jesus is called King only three times in the Bible: in 1 Timothy and twice in Revelation. Compare that to 45 times Jesus is called “Teacher” in the Gospels. The inscription over the cross in today’s Gospel reading “This is the King of the Jews” – is irony; sarcasm even.
The Bible is in fact ambiguous about the whole King idea. History is written by the winners. Having a king won the day for a while. So we inevitably ended up with a strong thread in the Bible that God appointed kings. But even then, doubting the wisdom of having a king is another thread that the careful reader of the Bible will find there.
We celebrate Christ the King counterculturally: on the throne of the cross, with thorns for a crown – sound the irony gong. This King directs us to head into Advent counterculturally. Our culture has us doing more and more in November and December; might we do less for Advent. Slow down for Advent.
I’ve spoken about this briefly here – but let’s expand on Christ the triumphant king: A few days before the crucifixion – today’s Gospel reading - remember, Jesus was coming into the city of Jerusalem from the East.
At the same time, on what we now call Palm Sunday, something else was happening on the West side of the city – the other side of Jerusalem. Jesus knew this because it always happened around Passover time.
All year round there was a Roman army presence in Jerusalem. Most of the security was in the hands of the Jewish High priest and the Temple police. There were thousands of them. At one time, 8,500 temple guards died in an uprising. So there were a lot. Then there were the Romans who had a fortress, called the Antonia Fortress, overlooking the Jewish temple complex. They had about 500 Roman soldiers stationed there all year.
At Passover time you have to visualise thousands upon thousands of pilgrims in Jerusalem. And there is intense, intense fervour. It is like a powder keg – the atmosphere is combustible. A riot can break out on any occasion. Josephus, a historian at the time, writes about one riot where 30,000 people were crushed to death.
So Passover is tense. Extremely tense. And the normal 500 Roman soldiers just will not do. So, at the start of Passover week Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, marched into Jerusalem with a massive military presence.
On Palm Sunday, Pilate is coming from Caesarea where he normally lives. Probably via Joppa on the coast and then up through the hills and into Jerusalem from the West.
You can imagine the gleaming armour, the burnished leather, the cavalrymen on horseback, the imperial eagle on a standard leading the procession, sun glinting on metal and gold. You can imagine foot soldiers beating and pushing the people out of the way. No one would have been in any doubt – the emperor’s representative was marching in to take charge of the city. Pilate is serious King stuff.
And what does Jesus do. He asks for a donkey – a little one that’s never been ridden. It’s actually a bit like asking for a kid’s bike or a tricycle. So, Jesus rides up to the top of the hill overlooking Jerusalem – from the East – on his tricycle. In front of him is a total sea of tents and makeshift shelters spreading out in the valley below and to the north, thousands upon thousands of people between him and the temple – between him and the city of Jerusalem. These are the poor here for Passover who don’t have wealthy family in Jerusalem; these are the people who cannot afford a hotel or motel. Thousands of them. And they know about Jesus.
Obviously what Jesus is doing is a parody, it’s a spoof, it’s taking the mick. Strike that irony gong! Jesus is clearly mocking the great procession of power that is happening on the West of the city. Jesus is striking the irony gong. And the people love it.
There’s Jesus on his kid’s bike and everyone is proclaiming him the king – it’s a pop festival. They spread their cloaks on the road. There is laughter and singing and joy. They cut down branches – this is the Mount of Olives – probably olive branches – traditionally signs of peace.
A sea of people is following Jesus in wave upon wave.
And we are given a choice. Which type of King do we follow? Which procession today will you join? Which procession will I join? The procession in the West of power, and control, and fear, and might.
Or the procession in the East of fun, and singing, and laughter, and joking, and caring.