Homily at St Philip Evans, for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year C – National Youth Sunday.
Sire, what are your orders?
If you watch movies regularly, you’ll be familiar with the kind of plot where the hero has just become the leader of a nation. Perhaps he has slain the villainous tyrant in a climactic battle. Or perhaps the President has been assassinated and the hero finds himself next in the line of succession. Either way, Hollywood underlines the hero’s new status by sending in someone to ask: “Sire – or sir – what are your orders?”
We can imagine something similar happening in the days of King David. David had been the successful commander of Saul’s army. But now both King Saul and the heir-apparent, Jonathan, have been slain. Rather than turn to Saul’s wider family, the people acclaim David as King. Surely some court official would have soon stepped forward to ask: “Sire, what are your orders?”
At first sight, the story of Jesus dying on the Cross seems very different from the triumph of King David. If Jesus had spoken but one word of command, a legion of angels would have lifted him off the Cross and raised him high above the waiting crowds. But Our Lord Jesus was not there to do battle with the Roman Army or the Jewish leaders. His battle was with Death itself, and to meet Death he first had to die. Jesus faced Death and overpowered our final enemy!
This too is a story which is told often enough. This weekend the BBC is marking 50 years of Doctor Who: the Doctor has sacrificed his life for others on numerous occasions but has the power to keep coming back. For J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter was the boy who lived, magically protected by a mother’s love from what should have been a fatal curse. Those are fascinating stories – but they are only stories. Ours is the Greatest Story Ever Told!
Ours is no mere fiction, but a story which climaxes on a day in human history when the Risen Jesus appeared to his disciples. They bow down and worship him. By their actions, they ask: “Sire, what are your orders?” – and Jesus gives clear instructions. “Go and make disciples of all nations. Baptise them and teach them to follow everything I have taught you. Trust that I will be with you always, even to the ends of the earth.” Leaving us with those words, Christ Our King went to sit on his throne, which is in heaven.
As soon as the new ruler has been acclaimed by the people, Hollywood likes to show us the last faithful servant of the old regime. Perhaps it was the henchman to the old tyrant, or the special adviser to the last president. This bit keeps us guessing, because you never know how the old retainer will react.
Will she leap forward and attack the new ruler, only to be slain in a final skirmish?
Will she jump through a window and run away? Cue a scene in the middle of the final credits where some comical fate awaits her in her life of exile!
Or will she bow the knee to the new ruler and become a faithful servant of the hero-king?
Once we understand who Jesus truly is, each one of us faces the same decision as that old retainer. For each of us, there was a time when we liked to make our decisions about our life, guided by the things we thought were important – sport stars, fashion idols, the tastes of our romantic partners…
But when we reach the point of knowing that Christ wants to be our King, we will find that his values are different from ours.
There are the decrees that the King issues for everyone. We must make peace with our enemies. We must go the extra mile to serve those in need. We must keep our promises. We must attend the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day to remember how he offered up his life for us. We must confess our sins when we fail.
Those laws are for everyone. But because the King knows each of his servants, there are special tasks he may have for us personally. We know this in the part of Christ’s Kingdom which is St Philip Evans Parish, because we have a longstanding custom here: in our Mass each weekend we pray: “Here I am Lord, use me as you will.”
If we are serious about praying those words in church, there are other words each one of us must pray when we get home: “Sire, what are your orders?”
Have you asked Jesus, in your personal prayers, what he would like you to do in your family life, in your workplace, and in this parish? For instance, in this parish, I have invited members of the congregation to form part of a Vision Group. Have you asked Christ Our King whether he would like you to volunteer for that? At the present time, we do not have catechists in this parish to work with parents presenting children for baptism, or to run children’s liturgy during Mass. Have you asked Christ Your King if it his is will for you to volunteer for any of these things?
Deep down, you may already have a sense of what Christ is asking of you. You can argue, or you can run away, but the only happy ending to the story will take place when you bend the knee and say, in your heart, “Lord Jesus, what are you asking of me? I choose you as my King. Sire, what are your orders?”
Then, and only then, can we truly pray every weekend: “Here I am Lord, use me as you will.” Only then can we truly pray, as Jesus taught us: “Thy will be done, thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”