The feast of Christ the King, celebrated this year with the gospel story of the mocking of “The King of the Jews” as he hung helpless on the cross, is the proclamation of the kingdom in which death has no dominion.
Human authority has used death as a means of maintaining its power. It has demonstrated that it has the last word by killing opposition.
God’s kingdom has nothing in common with this, and God does not seek to impose his will through death. Instead, through the crucified and risen Lord, “the firstborn of all creation” a kingdom based on love and on life is revealed.
We have been slow to model human society on this. In the early days of the Christian Roman Empire, the ruler was often not baptised until old age, because as emperor, he would have to order the death penalty. There was an understanding that a rule of law based on the death penalty and a kingdom based on love were fundamentally incompatible. Later Christian rulers were less scrupulous, though we have never lost sight of this ideal.
Today in most of Europe the death penalty has been outlawed. We recognise that mistakes can be made. Also, as Christians, we acknowledge that ultimate authority belongs to the God of love, not to a despot who enforces order through the death penalty.
But many countries, including the United States, still appear to celebrate their use of death as the sign of the power of the state. Sometimes it is only too clear that the State does this because it needs to appease what might be greater violence by an uncontrollable mob.
Today in Britain we mark one small move in the right direction. We shall not see a baying pack of hounds pursuing a defenceless fox or deer in future. Glorying in this form of killing has been declared unacceptable.
On the other hand, the decision to invade Iraq, which posed no external threat, and the way in which lives and infrastructure have been destroyed in that independent sovereign nation has appeared to the rest of the world to be a glorying in that very culture of death which Christ came to end.
The rest of the world can see it was only done to put American forces close to the borders of a now weakened Russia, and lay claim to the vast oil reserves of the nation. The number of Iraqi lives lost in the process is so high that we dare not even try to count the losses.
It is time Britain and America, with their long Christian heritage, learned turn away from this culture of death and to follow the ways of Christ, the king of love.