HOMILY at the 9h and 10h30 MASSES for the FEAST of CHRIST the KING (A) 2017
How is a star born? I don’t mean the kind that we might see on cinema or television screens! I mean the kind, some of which if we manage to penetrate the light pollution that is ruining our nights, we might actually be able to see with our naked eyes.
NASA has been making fantastic discoveries via the Hubble telescope together with light from a quasar about this process. This has revealed some interesting information as to just how stars are born – and although it is enormously complex (as you might expect) part of the secret is an enormously fast galactic wind which travels at something in the region of 3 million kilometres per hour! This phenomenon is continuing even in our own rather elderly galaxy, producing on average a couple of new stars every year.
Meanwhile, younger galaxies out there are furiously producing many new stars all the time. This might be a thought to keep in mind next time you sing John Mason’s hymn How shall I sing that majesty? If you hear this at 10h30 you won’t have long to wait – it’s the Communion hymn today!
Now I mention all this astrophysics for a number of reasons. First, because it absolutely entrances me. The idea of this wonderful, extravagant creation going on throughout the Universe speaks to me as a symbol of the infinite extravagance of God and God’s love. But I mention it for another reason.
Because as I was thinking about this address for the Feast of Christ the King – or as its official title puts it in part of the Church the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe – I heard an interview on very early morning television with the writer Dan Brown. He of the Da Vinci Code. Brown admitted that his method is to take a few bits of fact, mix them with a heck of a lot of fiction, shake them up and serve them as an intoxicating cocktail. He didn’t use quite those terms, but that is the gist of his position.
He has a serious problem in this with religious faith. Largely, I suspect, due to his childhood. He claims his mother was very religious – which is always a bit suspect for a start. I guess, from the other things that he went on to say, that means she was part of some fundamentalist off-shoot from the Christian Church, of which the United States has a whole galaxy to choose from. For someone who is clearly an intelligent person, Brown said something unbelievably stupid in the course of the interview. It went unchallenged – of course – by the interviewer (whom I suspect also has a problem with religious faith from the previous interviews that I have heard of his). Brown said that – and this time I quote directly – science has replaced religion. Rationality, he said, has taken over from religious faith.
Well, there is nothing new in such nonsense, of course. But given the enormous popularity of Brown’s fictional output (another is about to hit the shelves I gather) it made me wonder if people do actually believe such rubbish! But I suppose if you are faced with a choice between some of the fundamentalist nonsense that gets peddled around in some places, or enjoying the God-given rationality with which we are gifted and which finds one outlet in scientific exploration, then I guess that I would certainly take the second option!
What I find very difficult to understand – and I always have since I began as a child to think about it – is why people feel that there should be an opposition between (as they put it) science and religion.
Not least because they address completely different questions. Science addresses ‘how’ questions. Religious faith is not – or perhaps should not be – particularly interested in those questions, favouring questions of meaning and purpose, of goals and intentions.
Now I am sure – since Holy Trinity Church contains quite a few scientists amongst us – that this is nothing new to anyone. The problem in human knowledge always occurs when one kind of intellectual activity assumes that it is the only one that counts. Brown of course falls into this category – perhaps rather surprisingly for his main character is a professor of semiotics – an enormously wide area of study which pursues the meaning of signs.
Present day science is nowhere near as bombastic as it once was and no longer would claim a monopoly in the field of knowledge. Particle physics now seems to me to be enveloped in a language of myth and mystery, inviting us to observe, yet immediately we have accepted that invitation, the reality we observe has changed!
However, 9h or 10h30 on a Sunday morning is not the time for particle – or indeed pretty much any other kind of physics! With my apologies to some members of the congregation!
Because I would like us to think about this Feast of our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe. And it is clear that – at one level – this seems to break that rule about human knowledge of which I spoke a moment ago. Is it not somewhat presumptuous to speak of Christ as King – not only of the Church, or even of the World, but of the Universe? Is it not to risk justifying all kinds of human oppression by reference to the Lordship of Christ – as has happened too frequently in the history of the world, and particularly in the history of religions as tragically we see day after day in the shape of Islamic fundamentalism?
Well, let’s think about this for a moment. This feast was introduced back in the 1920’s for a number of reasons. First, it was an attempt to encourage Christian people to think very carefully about the kind of leadership that they were prepared to endorse at the political level. At a time when uncritical acceptance of fascist leadership was a growing concern, the feast was introduced by Pope Pius XI. It was also a time of growing secularism, and again the motive was to encourage people to listen to what their faith told them when making life decisions.
Later, as Christians from other parts of the Church began to celebrate this Feast in their own calendars, it was Pope Paul VI who renamed it the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe. And he did so to emphasise that dimension of our faith which is concerned with Christ’s ultimate rule (to which today’s Gospel draws our attention). Going back many centuries previously to the time of S. Cyril of Alexandria in the fifth century, we find argument for Christ’s Kingship of the Universe because of the unity he shares with God as the incarnation of the Word of God.
Because the Word of God is, as it were, the active principle of God in creation, to obey Christ’s rule is to honour at the deepest possible level God’s purposes in that creation.
So, you are a King then – said Pilate to Jesus in John’s version of the Passion. Yes, but not as you know it – came the reply which might almost have come from Star Trek! Christ is no exploitative, oppressive, coercive ruler. To hear his voice and obey him as King is to live in a way that is in tune with the purposes of God’s creative Word in all that is.
So yes, we honour, worship and obey Christ the King of the Universe. Not for a single moment does that constrain us from exploring, appreciating, discovering that universe through science – which cannot fail to open our eyes in wonder. Even though it can never displace the faith which is not incredulity at some divine being’s ability to perform six impossible things before breakfast, but rather faith is our trust in the God whose hand and purpose we discover in all that is, and as we trust that God, revealed in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, our living in this wondrous Universe is enhanced, given meaning and purpose, and ultimately will be one with the Author and Giver of all. Which is a much more factual story than anything Dan Brown is likely to come up with!