A sermon for the Parish Eucharist on Sunday 23rd August 2020 preached in Sherborne Abbey on Trinity 11 by the Revd. Christopher Huitson.
The Duke of Edinburgh, famous for his quips and quotable comments, is reputed to have said to the queen on the day of her coronation: “where did you get that hat!”
Of course marrying into the royal family has consequences and there are many things which can no longer be done. The new husband or wife can no longer be ordinary, no longer do a little shopping at the local shop, no longer do something on the spur of the moment. Outings have to be planned and fitted into the diary and royal personages need protection.
Once it became known that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, a King similar restrictions and much greater ones would have come his way. There was a general expectation that a king like David would be sent by God who would lead the people to victory and independence from the Roman domination. The disciples suddenly grasp that Jesus was this person, but Jesus wants the disciples to keep this insight quiet, for once it got around that Jesus was that special Messiah and as more and more people rallied to the cause so he could easily be beset with problems. To begin with different groups had different expectations of the Messiah and would seek to pressure him to conform to their particular interpretation. But even worse he would become more and more out of touch with ordinary people. For Jesus, it was vitally important that he should himself be part of humanity. Very soon after his death and resurrection his followers began to see him as someone very special, but it is clear that during his life on this earth he put aside much that could have been special about himself and identified with the ordinary.
Let’s go back to the beginning of his ministry and think of his baptism. Crowds of people flocked to hear John the Baptist and to be baptised by him – washed clean from their failures and lukewarm response to God’s call and plain lack of faith which made the prospect of judgement a terrible one. John was offering them a new beginning. So what of Jesus, a special person, confident in his relationship with God, unbroken in his faithfulness and innocence. He could have kept his distance, looking with pity on the thousands overwhelmed by the realisation of their own moral inadequacy. But instead Jesus did not presume upon his special status; he cast it to one side and threw away his separateness to take on the identity of struggling men and women who were reaching out for the lifeline of forgiveness and was himself baptised. And God was pleased with Jesus’ self-emptying identification with ordinary humanity.
The temptations which follow placed at risk this solidarity with the people. Why not use his power to provide bread for himself? But Jesus refuses to insulate himself from the dependence we all have on others by exploiting miraculous prayer.
Why not hurl himself off the parapet of the Temple? But Jesus rejects the lure of invulnerability.
Why not take political power but, as we know, leadership so often depends on the illusion that the leader is above and beyond the common people.
The vocation of Jesus is to be the servant, numbered with the transgressors, not the rulers. He is to stand with people not over them. Jesus saw how his sense of specialness as the Anointed one could so easily be distorted into a demand to be exempt from hardships and to have control over others.
But, as Jesus began to explain to his disciples in today’s gospel, the truth was that his specialness as the Beloved son gave him the freedom to take human suffering upon himself and to be the servant of all.
There has been much suffering over the last few months as we have endured the pandemic but one of the encouraging side effects has been the way in which so many have rallied round, buying provisions and collecting medication for those unable to leave their homes and finding ways of keeping in touch with the isolated. People in the caring professions have worked tirelessly and others have kept the country fed and supplied. Out of so much tragedy have emerged inspiring stories of determination and love.
We too are called to serve others following our Lord and Master. The church is being allowed to find its vocation again to be a place of prayer and worship and we ourselves can find opportunities for service and assistance to our fellow human beings in obedience to the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. But Jesus is much more than just an exemplar. His identification with us all and his readiness to die for us led to his resurrection and new life for us all. So that the significant symbol for Christ our king is not a crown but a cross.