Eucharist – Christ the King – 22nd Nov
CHRIST THE KING Gospel Reading Matthew 25 31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Have you ever met the Queen? in person? I haven’t: but I did see a waving left hand in a glove as a limo swept past, once, as we stood in the rain: I was two. My father danced, briefly, with Princess Margaret, and got into awful trouble – he was there to move chairs and empty ashtrays, not invite royals to dance: but an naval officer friend, later on, told us when Princess Anne, as a young woman, was being sent round to meet eligible bachelors, her radiance lit up the room the moment she entered, and all were too awestruck to move. There’s just something about being royal that’s rather special. But it doesn’t come over except in real life, and (perhaps) has to be seen to be known. When Queen Victoria mourned too long alone for Prince Albert, such that people began to forget her, her ministers really feared a republican outbreak like those elsewhere: hence the publication of royal photos, and celebration of jubilees.
Our picture today is chosen to do two things. It stands in the fine, long, tradition of Coronation portraits: the earliest I could find was of Edward II, and all British monarchs have them. In the days before photography it was the only way to show folks who you were: not only your face (and identity) but your office and role in the nation. How else could anyone be expected to obey the laws made in your name, or value money stamped with your image? Early portraits appear in church manuscripts (a coronation being within the Holy Eucharist, and, because of the anointing, not unlike ordination). Later on, printing made it possible to make engraved, black-and-white, copies of the original painting, which could be sent anywhere, for all to see. There would be no hiding-place for any king or queen once the people got hold of the image.
But this particular Coronation portrait tells a bigger story. In case you haven’t guessed, it’s Charles II: the Restoration monarch, whose father and forerunner, Charles I, had been beheaded after losing the Civil War to the Parliamentarians. For a while England was led (not ruled) by a Lord Protector (not a king): who had become an MP by the people’s election, through his faith in God, not Divine Right. (It’s about who’s really in charge of the choice). By the time Oliver Cromwell died, the country had stabilised, somewhat: and the heir to the throne, also called Charles, was brought back from exile in France to take up his duties. The French court he had grown up at had few difficulties of religion (yet) but their king, despite power and riches, led a life of rigid traditions. The new King Charles would be coming back to a changed world, where obedience could not be assumed, and tyranny understood not as individual temptation but a threat to all.
So, to show he isn’t like his father, Charles II’s portrait shows him as a man. He sits comfortably on his throne, in robes that fall casually from his figure: he holds the orb and sceptre lightly: he smiles gently: he looks at us, as we him: while people behind the throne get on with life at a party. I think Church could be like that, if we’d let it : wise and loving, rich and strange: a foretaste of Christ’s own kingdom.