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Christ the King

As a boy I was fascinated by my mother’s necklace, not the pretty pendant at the front but the clasp at the back which was a small silver ring which joined the two ends of the chain together. My mother could not easily operate it so I was aught early how the mechanism worked - how you needed to pull back the little lever - reaching the end of the church year is a little like holding the ring open ready to connect it to the link on the other side. The annual cycle of our worship and learning ends with today’s feast of Christ the King and then next week the first Sunday of Advent the cycle begins again. We begin with the hope of the coming Messiah and end with the proclamation of his universal sovereignty. The image is of Jesus ascended as Lord of earth and heaven where final judgement is one of his proper kingly purposes.

If you visit Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, or the monastery of Daphni near Athens, you will find in the dome of these orthodox basilicas icon mosaics showing Christ the ruler of the world. Dating from the1100’s these depict an often severe, stern Christ far from the other portrayals of Christ the good shepherd or the virgin and child to be found elsewhere in the building. This is not the tender Jesus of western thought but rather a strange awesome figure reminiscent of Old testament Jehovah. High up and very ornate your attention is caught by these dominant, colossal regal figures that are at one and the same time remote and yet very present.

In Daphni in particular the intricate interplay between the architecture and the mosaics presents a visual picture of the Christian cosmos, of the world the way Christians understood it. The worshipper who moves in this golden shell enters a layout where in the lower ring of the dome stand the prophets with their scrolls, below them in the recessed arches depictions of scenes from the life of Christ and lower then on the remaining wall space the saints all originally set against a background of gold. And in the centre then, at the very top of the dome, far up above everything is the huge mosaic of the bust of Christ the “Ruler of All.” The ensemble is of the ruler, surrounded most nearly by the prophets, presiding over the hosts of saints and people lower down on the walls.

This is the Christian story for the baby that we shall begin next week to wait for is this same Christ the King that came down to earth and afterwards returned to his rightful place in heaven.

And so we need to close the clasp on the next link of the necklace, between this Sunday and next, for the start and the end is the Lord God, the alpha and the omega who is, who was and is to come - the Almighty.


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