I once heard a story about a man who travelled to London to attend an interview for an important post in the security services. When he arrived at the appointed place he found five other applicants in the waiting room, all discussing their prospects. There was no secretary on duty. A sign on the wall stated that applicants were to knock and enter the interview room at fifteen-minute intervals, beginning at eleven o'clock. They were to leave the interview room by another door, so that the nature of the questioning could be kept secret.
The applicants discussed the strange arrangement; they reflected on what questions might be asked; they wondered what qualities would be needed for the post. At eleven o'clock one of them, who said he had been the first to arrive, went to the door of the interview room, knocked and entered. The remaining five men continued to discuss various matters among themselves. So, the time passed.
At a quarter past twelve the last man to arrive rose from his chair, walked over to the door of the interview room, knocked and entered. When he stepped into the room he was confused by what he saw. Behind the large oak table that dominated the room sat his interviewers: they were the same five men who had been in the waiting room. The interview was already over, all the information they needed had been extracted from him during the casual conversation in the waiting room.
We have another kind of interrogation in today’s Gospel reading. It is much more direct than the one we just heard about. Pilate immediately cuts to the chase, “Are you the King of the Jews?” This time it is the interviewee who is enigmatic. Jesus responds with a question as if he is turning the tables on Pilate. But eventually Jesus does provide the answer not only to Pilate’s interrogation but to the questions in the minds of the readers of Matthew’s Gospel and indeed to the questions we have about him today. “Yes, I am a King” he says, “But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
Yes, Jesus is a King. Not a King as we know it and his Kingdom is as unlike any Kingdom here on earth as it possibly could be. His Kingdom is no ordinary Kingdom for it is the goal and destination of the whole of humanity, because it is under Christ’s rule that we will all ultimately come. Pilate has found himself in the extraordinary position of interrogating the King of the Universe, the Lord of Lords, the Judge and Ruler of all creation. If he fully understood what was happening it was Pilate who should have been shaking in his shoes not Christ.
This great feast in honour of Christ the King marks the very end of the Liturgical Year. It is most appropriate therefore that we look to the very last thing of all, the Second Coming of Christ. We began the year with our preparations to celebrate the First Coming of Christ and now we look to the End Times to what we Catholics call the Four Last Things; that is Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. I don’t want to dwell on these overmuch in this sermon; much better that you dwell upon them yourselves quietly at home. There could be no better fruit for meditation for a Christian in this last week of the liturgical year.
Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell: Even the words sound gloomy and sombre but they shouldn’t be, for it is our firm belief that Christ has won the victory and so meditating on these Four Last Things should actually be like any other examination of conscience. Spending a little time thinking about them will help us realise just how lucky we are and how important it is for us to stay on track, as it were, with our Christian faith and strive all the harder to love God and do good in the world.
During this last year in our scripture readings we have considered all the most important aspects of the life of Christ. They have been cleverly arranged so that we mark the various seasons appropriately and look at the life of Christ principally through the eyes of one Evangelist which this year has been St Mark. It is as if we have been listening to a wonderful symphony with its various moods and movements. There have been moments of wonder and awe such as the Nativity of Christ, there have been times of tragedy and sorrow as with Christ’s death on the Cross. We have experienced the glory of the Resurrection and the regular and persistent drumbeat of the teaching of Christ.
And today we come to the finale when Christ quietly and with great self-assurance standing alone before Pilate accepts for himself the extraordinary title King of Kings.
It is a moment of great majesty and splendour and yet almost all of those actually present did not recognise it for what it was. 90% of those there including Pilate probably regarded Jesus’ words as a joke. And yet it was these words which presaged his triumph on the Cross and the great victory over sin and death. It was a moment whose significance was beyond all expectation and which transformed the world.
Although we know that the Kingdom of God will not be made present in all its fullness until the Last Day, we clearly understand that, by accepting this title, Jesus Christ changed the course of human history and began the inauguration of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is then already born and although we do not know when it will come into its fullness, however, we know that the work has begun and that we are privileged to be part of it. This is the task of the Christians of today, to help the Kingdom of God to find a place in the hearts of all of mankind. It is a sacred duty, an honourable task, a privileged undertaking.
And so, on this great Feast Day, the last in our Christian Calendar, our hearts are filled with hope and optimism. This is best summed up in the words spoken as we greet the flame of the Paschal Candle on Holy Saturday Night:
Christ yesterday and today,
the Beginning and the End,
Alpha and Omega.
All time belongs to him
and all the ages.
To Him be glory and power
Through every age forever. Amen
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket