Awaiting licensing to a new post, there is one bonus, as I sit amongst the detritus of moving house — I don’t have to preach on Sunday, the day we mark as ‘Christ the King’. I always find these weeks before Advent, which we now call the Kingdom season, difficult. The words given to us to use in worship and in our lectionary readings are distinctly triumphalist. They speak of majesty, power, grandeur, force. How do they fit with the gospel theme of a world turned upside down, a world where the priorities are quite other? The contrast seems all the more striking this year, when the immediately preceding Sundays gave us a whole series of readings from Mark, in which we are told that the first shall be last and the last first.
But perhaps I should regret not preaching this Sunday, and trying to work out my ambivalence about the Church’s season in the light of current events. News coverage this week has been dominated by the state visit of the president of the United States. George Bush’s visit has been an extraordinary mixture of pomp and security. He has been entertained at Buckingham Palace, and protected by enormous numbers of police and security officers; he has addressed the political elite, travelled in a limousine with doors five inches thick, and reviewed a traditional guard of honour. Majesty, power, grandeur, and force.
My questioning is not about the character of American foreign policy under this president, or even about the extent and limits of American power; it runs deeper than that. It is about how the Christian tradition views power and all its trappings. In celebrating Christ the King, it is not enough to imagine a purely virtuous superpower, engaged in promoting universal well-being by using the traditional levers of force and influence. We are called, I think, to something much more radical, to re-imagining the nature and uses of dominion, to losing the triumphalism, and seeking out what it might mean for the last indeed to be first.