The Rector writes…
Seventy years of a marriage is well-worth a celebration and we would want to add our congratulations and prayers to the many which have been expressed to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on the Platinum Jubilee of their wedding. At a time when the institution of marriage is questioned, we thank God for this particular example of dutiful fidelity. Tertullian’s famous words seem fully justified: “how wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in discipline, one in service”. This past week’s anniversary has brought the Royal Family centre stage, and the media have (understandably) had a field day of reminiscence as images of the past seventy years have filled newspapers as well as television screens and it would be easy to confuse contemporary iconography of monarchy with the reality the Church wants us to consider this weekend – Our Lord Jesus Christ as King of the Universe.
The Catechism says that “since our knowledge of God is limited, our language about him is equally so” and goes on to make the significant point: “God transcends all creatures. We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, image-bound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God – the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable”. Sovereignty is of the nature of God, but we need to be careful in our understanding that sovereignty is defined by God and not by the images of monarchy that we human beings have constructed for ourselves. We should be wary of falling into the trap of creating God in ideas of our own making. As with fatherhood, so with kingship, it is God in himself who defines the meaning of these concepts and not vice versa. When Jesus said “you must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9) this is surely what he meant us to understand.
Once we have accepted this fundamental truth, we can then go on to acknowledge with the Catechism that: “we can name God only by taking creatures as our starting point, and in accordance with our limited human ways of thinking”. In other words, as with all that is best in Christian art, statuary, iconography and music, we can legitimately use what is available to us to express something of the mystery of God – while accepting that our attempts, authentic as they may be, will always be less than adequate. The Christian is, of course, one who believes that God has taken the initiative in opening up his own being by sending his Son to us in human form: “the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and centuries has now been revealed”. If we want to discover a true image of the Godhead, then it is to Jesus we must look: “He is the image of the unseen God and the first born of all creation … the mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
It is inevitable that in trying to express the universal kingship of Christ established in his Paschal Mystery, and to be completed in his Second Coming, we fall back on notions of monarchy with which we are familiar. Statues depicting a crowned Christ, with orb and sceptre to hand, can aid our understanding, and they do signify an important theological truth, but perhaps a more accurate expression could be borrowed from the late Princess of Wales in her claim that she wanted her role to be that of “queen of people’s hearts”. During the Last Supper the Son of God knelt down and washed his disciple’s feet (John13:1-20). It was the action reserved to the lowliest house servant of the times. “Do you understand”, he said “what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then the Lord and Master have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you”. In the moments of his own self-definition God assumes the image of servanthood: it may not accord with many of our own concepts of sovereignty but it is the icon of choice for Jesus – and one, we, his followers cannot ignore. In God’s being kingship is inseparable from service: Christ is both universal King and universal Servant.