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The Sunday after Ascension

Fr. David Curry

Christ Church Windsor, AD 2005

“The Lord is King”


There are three psalms that begin with these words, “The Lord is King.”  They are psalms 93, 97 and 99.  And if you look in The Book of Common Prayer at those psalms, on pages 450, 454 and 456, you will notice that these psalms have the same Latin title, Dominus regnavit.  It means “the Lord rules”, in other words, “the Lord is King.”  The inclusion of the Latin titles, invariably taken from the first words of the psalms in their Latin translation, reminds us of the long and rich tradition of prayer and spirituality to which we are connected.  The Latin psalms, in some sense, shaped the thought-world of the West for more than a thousand years.


“The Lord is King” signals that the God of Israel is the King of all creation.  For Christians that kingship is made visible in the paradox and wonder of Christ crucified and dead, and then, Christ risen and ascended; in short, the cross and the glory.


We meet in the Ascension of Christ.  Thursday was Ascension Day, the culmination of the resurrection and the celebration of the homecoming of the Son to the Father having accomplished “the will of the one who sent [him]”.  It is a time of great rejoicing, a time of great glory.  “God has gone up with a merry noise”, as the gradual psalm for today puts it.  The Son has returned to the Father.  Today is The Sunday after Ascension.  In the meaning of the Ascension we celebrate the Session of Christ at the right hand of the Father.  He “ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father” as we just said in the Creed.  What does it mean?


It signals the gathering into glory of what we heard and saw on the Cross on Good Friday, “it is finished”, meaning accomplished and concluded.  “The end of all things is at hand”, says St. Peter, but that end is in the hands of God, in the hands of the Son who sits at the right hand of God.  It is an image of rule and majesty, of power and dominion, but it is one that has gathered into that rule all the misrule of human sin and folly.  The Ascension and the Session of Christ proclaim Christ as Pantocrator, ruler of all.  That rule is the rule of divine reason.  O qui perpetua mundum ratione gubernas. “O thou who dost rule the world with everlasting reason”, as a Christian philosopher, Boethius, puts it.  He was contemporary with St. Benedict who founded Benedictine monasticism in the sixth century.  The labours and liturgy of Benedictine monasticism, especially through the psalm offices, would shape Europe and those lands which are the children of Europe; in short, the modern world in its medieval legacy and roots.


Christ sits on the throne of God.  His exaltation is no mere power trip.  In his exaltation, as the ancient fathers put it, is “the exaltation of our humanity.”  All rule and power ultimately share in the rule and power of God.  “Thou couldst have no power at all against me”, Jesus says to Pilate, “except it were given thee from above”.  All power and authority ultimately derive from God.  And in the going forth and return of the Son to the Father, all that belongs to sin and death has been gathered into the reign of God.


It means that the experiences of our lives in all of their complexity and confusion are not without meaning, provided they are gathered into the rule of God in Christ.  He sits “at the right hand of the Father” having accomplished all that he was sent to do.  It is ‘mission accomplished’, we might say, but it remains for us to realize that “mission” in our own lives through compassionate service and passionate prayer, through the consecration of our lives to God in prayer and praise, in the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments celebrated, lifting up to God all the affairs and concerns of our world and day, placing everything and ourselves included in the ruling mercy of the risen, ascended and glorified Christ.  And it means that continual aspect of waiting upon God.


In the session of Christ, we wait purposefully for the promised descent of the Holy Spirit who keeps us in the truth and words of Christ and who guides us through those words and not away from them into all truth.  The going forth of the Son to the Father is, as we have said, the condition of God’s being with us in the power of the Spirit.  This is the promise of the Father and the Son.  We live in that promise now.  Where and how?  In the Church, the body of Christ, the Church who is Mother.


The Church is Mary in her waiting upon the Word and Will of God, in her magnifying the Lord, in her pondering in her heart the words of Christ, in her gathering into her soul all the things of the world.

All things rising, all things sizing

Mary sees, sympathizing

          With that world of good

           Nature’s motherhood.


In Mother Church, Mary “mothers each new grace” and in her we give thanks on this Mother’s Day for the mothers of our natural births and the nourishment in life that they have given us. And yet in Mary, the Mother of God, we contemplate even more our spiritual good which embraces all our natural lives and bestows upon them dignity and grace, the dignity and grace of Christ being with us through her so that we can be with him where he is with her. “She holds high motherhood/ towards our ghostly good/ And plays in grace her part/ About man’s beating heart”, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it.


The Session of Christ and the Motherhood of Mary embrace, too, our remembrance on this day of The Victory in Europe sixty years ago and its cost in so many lives lost through the tyranny of power abused and misused. The power of totalitarian regimes in every generation is the power that denies the power and the authority of God and in so doing destroys and denies the dignity and the truth of our humanity.  In the Session of Christ, “we kneel before God,” John Paul II famously said, “but we stand up to tyrants”.  The Victory in Europe was about standing up to tyranny.  When we fail to do that we become complicit in corruption ourselves.  It is, perhaps, the challenge for us in our day, too, for our church and for our country.


Above all else, it means honouring the reason and the will of God signaled most profoundly in the Ascension and the Session of Christ.  It is the profoundest counter to the existential pragmatism of our age in its atheistic secularism.  The Lord is King is the proclamation that checks the petty tyrannies of our will and pride, on the one hand, and places us in the mercy and truth of God, on the other hand.  We have only to will it.  It is the challenge of our lives, our lives lived to God and with God and with one another, “that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever”.


“The Lord is King”