“If It’s a King You Want…”
Sunday 10 June 2018
Six years ago now, we witnessed the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The events received saturation coverage on our televisions and I found it very hard not to take in as many of them as I could.
Whether it was the pageant of a thousand boats coming down the Thames River, or the outdoor concert, or the beautiful Service in St Paul’s Cathedral, or the open carriage ride through the streets of London, or the wave from the balcony as the historic planes flew overhead, there was at the centre of everything the dignified figure of Elizabeth Windsor. After her 60 years of service to the public good, there was apparent at all events, the warmth and love of a grateful population.
The Archbishop of Canterbury touched on the reason for the gratitude that flowed to the Queen at all her appearances over the festival. In his sermon at St Paul’s he said: “What we remember is the simple statement of commitment made by a very young woman, away from home, suddenly and devastatingly bereaved, a statement that she would be there for those she governed, that she was dedicating herself to them”.
And it was very appropriate for the Archbishop to laud the Queen for her lifelong dedication because it highlights the fact that such selfless devotion to duty and the public good is not necessarily a given with all monarchs.
In fact, the great temptation for monarchs is to forget their responsibility to the people at large and consider only their own interests. The history of the world records that, by and large, the kings and queens and emperors and empresses of time have failed dismally to look after the best interest of the people that they governed.
The institution of monarchy is a very flawed one in itself because it provides the opportunity for the abuse of great power. Those monarchs who do not abuse that power, who serve their people and their peoples’ interests are to be greatly admired.
It is not surprising then that when the people of Israel asked Samuel to appoint them a king to govern them, God was disappointed. God tells Samuel that “they have rejected me from being king over them.”
But God knows the way of most monarchs and he tells Samuel to warn the people what will befall them with their kings. “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day”.
And we read that the people ignored this warning and insisted on having a king like the other nations around them. And so Saul was made king.
We need to understand the political nature of what took place. The Israelites had entered Canaan as a loose confederacy of twelve tribes who settled and became a successful agrarian culture. But as they saw the power and wealth of the City states of Canaan, they turned their back on their egalitarian tribal society, under God, and sought to be like the City States – either to feel more secure, or in order to plunder and gain more territory.
Their demand for a monarch was clearly a lack of trust in the kingship of God to provide and care for them. And while they enjoyed a short time of prosperity under the kingship of David and Solomon, from then on, the monarchy suited them ill and the Old Testament books of the Kings and the Chronicles attest to failure after failure in their kings until the devastating collapse of the monarchy at the hands of the Babylonians in 587BC.
There were various unsuccessful attempts to revive the kingship after the Exile, but the long and short of it all was, that monarchy had failed the people Israel dramatically.
And yet, God is a redeeming God. And so we find the prophets speaking in terms of a new kingship that will arise – a redeeming kingship. A messiah, an anointed one, a true king will emerge and save his people. God is able to use the very institution that had failed the people so dismally to redeem and save them.
But the new kingship will not be like the old one. The new king will reign in the kingdom of God. The new king will not be like the kings of old who sought only their own wealth and comfort. The new king will reign over a kingdom in which all is turned upside down.
In the new kingdom, the poor will be blessed, the hungry will be filled, those who weep will laugh, those who are hated, excluded, reviled or defamed on account of the new king will be blessed.
And we are the citizens of this new kingdom by means of our Baptism in Christ, the anointed one, the new king.
And we are invited each week to gather around the table of our Messiah and to share in the sacred meal which unites us with Christ, who comes to us as the bread of life and the cup of salvation, and with one another. As Paul reminds us in the First Letter he wrote to the Christians at Corinth: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?”
The sharing of the Eucharist is both the source of our strength to live as disciples of Christ, and the summit of our efforts to bring about his kingdom in the world.
And so it is with great joy today that we are invited to join in the sharing of this holy meal by which we commemorate and celebrate Jesus’ saving passion and death, his mighty resurrection and ascension into heaven as we eagerly await his coming again in glory in his kingdom.
Let us go to the altar of God.
Even unto the God of my joy and gladness
The Reverend Allan Paulsen (Parish Priest)