The subversive feast of Christ the King

By Symon Hill
November 21, 2010

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. After days of wall-to-wall media coverage about royalty, churches across Britain have today celebrated Jesus Christ as the true king. This is a truly subversive claim.

A carpenter's son executed as a political troublemaker by an oppressive regime does not conform to our understandings of monarchy; even less so when he teaches that the first will be last and the last first. The man who announced his engagement last week appears to be a far more suitable candidate for the position.

The claim that Christ is king not only subverts common expectations about the nature of power. It is also a reminder that no-one can serve two kings. If Christ is king, then no other person or institution can demand our total loyalty – whether William Windsor, the British state, the free market or even the Church.

Many early Christians attracted extra persecution by refusing to declare that “Caesar is Lord”. If Christ is Lord, they reasoned, then Caesar cannot be. After the coming of Christendom – when the Church became allied with the forces of power and wealth – this claim was softened. In order to get round the problem, earthly monarchs were presented as representatives of Christ.

But if we no longer accept the notion that monarchs are anointed by God, why are we prepared to acknowledge anyone other than Christ as our king? It may well be argued that the British monarch has no real power. This claim is an exaggeration, but there is a lot of truth in it. However, the very use of words such as “king”, “queen” and “lord” reinforces the values of hierarchy and privilege whose emptiness is exposed by Jesus' radical message of the Kingdom of God.

I wish William Windsor and Kate Middleton every happiness in their marriage. My fear is that their wedding will be used to revive flagging support for the monarchy. As Christians, it is vital that we do not get swept up into promoting values that we oppose. We can take this opportunity to speak out clearly and say that we not recognise the claim of any member of the Windsor family to the title of king or queen.

It would be a position much clearer than the confusion which characterises several of today's newspapers. The News of the World declares that a poll of its readers has shown that most of them want William as the next king rather than Charles. It is odd to find a pro-royalty paper suggesting that the head of state should be chosen on the basis of public approval. The whole point of monarchy is that you have to go with the next person in line, regardless of whether or not he/she is any good for the job.

It falls to the Daily Mail to be the first paper since the engagement was announced to use its front page to attack a critic of the monarchy. In its usual vicious style, the Mail launches a full-blown front page attack on Church of England bishop Pete Broadbent, who has accurately described the institution of monarchy as “corrupt and sexist”.

I've had occasion to disagree with Pete Broadbent on many occasions, and can't condone his personal comments about the individuals involved in the engagement. But he is right to speak out against the monarchy.

John's Gospel states that when Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if he were king of the Jews, Jesus replied, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18,36). The Greek word usually rendered as "world" is "kosmos". It can refer to a system or a way of undrstanding as well as a world in a physical sense. Walter Wink translates Jesus' statement as "The new reality of which I speak is not of this old system of domination".

Those who dominate the world do not understand the sort of power that Christ proclaims. We must be prepared for controversy if we are to live out the meaning of this subversive power in the feast we celebrate today.

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