Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 22, 2015
The Feast of Christ the King
The Rev'd Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Agnus Dei

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

On occasion we are wise to step back and reflect on the most important things.  At work we might look again at our goals and objectives, and those critical projects that will get us to there.  At home and in solitude, we must be equally deliberate – stopping to consider the big rocks of our life, not just our professional goals, but those first things we are called to as partners and parents, as friends and as disciples of Christ.

Whether it is at home or work, or here at Christ Church, we must take some time now and again to reflect on these first things.

Today, the Last Sunday after Pentecost, presents us just such an opportunity.  As the liturgical year comes to a close and a new year stands before us, we are encouraged to reflect on who we are and who we are called to be.  For us here at Christ Church, however, today is more than just a year end of sorts, for today is also the Feast of Christ the King, the feast for whom we are named, the feast which gives us our identity.

Now, a very interesting, and most important, decision was made some time ago – a decision that has shaped not only who we are and have been over the years, but who we are called to be even into the future.  You see, there are two directions one might take when choosing images for Christ the King.  The most common path is a selection of images that show the triumph of Christ.  Here we see images of the Ascension, the Christus Rex, a cross upon which hangs an image of Jesus crowned in triumphant glory, or images of Christ seated at the right hand of God, reigning over all the world.

There is, however, another, less common, option when considering images for Christ the King; that is to turn to the moment of Jesus’ greatest triumph, that is, the cross itself.  It should come as no surprise that, when approached from this perspective, images for Christ the King look rather different – the crucifix replaces the Christus Rex, and the Agnus Dei (that is a lamb bearing a cross) replaces the Christ crowned in glory. 

Interestingly, this seems to be the path our forbearers chose.  While we do have images of the Ascension before us – when you approach the altar today, look closely at the reredos that stands behind the altar, there you will see the Ascension beautifully depicted – but the image of Christ triumphant is neither the primary image of our nave nor our community. 

Here in this space it is Agnus Dei that surrounds us and Jesus pouring himself out upon the cross that overshadows us.  Of course, there is the powerful crucifix that stands upon the rod beam above, a powerful reminder that it is Jesus sacrifice that redeems us and unites us.  Then there is the needlepoint banner in the sanctuary pointed by Frannie Book years ago, and to the altar kneelers at the Sanctuary rail – all bearing the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God.  Even more subtly, both of our processional crosses and the altar cross bear the Agnus Dei, reminding us that it is the Lamb of God whom we proclaim as Christ the King.

In this most subtle of choices, we are reminded of a most profound truth:  sacrifice will triumph over power!  Forgiveness will overcome sin.  Love will conquer hatred.

Look closely at the crucifix above us and we will see this triumph of sacrifice over power, of forgiveness over sin, of love over hate, depicted ever so clearly.  It may be hard to see from where you are seated, however, when you have a change look closely – there at the foot of the cross, vanquished by the cross and death of Jesus, if you will – lies a shield bearing three images:  a cat of nine tails, a mace, and a spear:  each an image of the greatest brokenness of humanity.

Together they remind us of the great pain we cause one another, the abusive use of power by which we so often control one another, and the violence we inflict upon one another in the name of justice and redemption. 

Placed as they are in the shadow of the cross, however, we are reminded that pain only begets pain, power-over only divides, and violence only destroys. 

The use of the Agnus as the principal image of Jesus, however, is not unique to Christ Church of course.  On the contrary, it is one of the earliest images we have for the depiction of Jesus.  Well before the legalization of Christianity in the 4th century, imagery of a lamb was used to depict Jesus, the Lamb of God, within the Christian community.  The image of the lamb hearkens back not only the pastoral images of Jesus, as Good Shepard, but to the words of John the Baptist who proclaims “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), and this image itself finds root in the prophecy of Isaiah who says of the Messiah, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent” (Isaiah 53:7b).

It is the cross, of course, that brings us full circle.  Christ the Lamb, is non-other than Christ upon the Cross, and the sheep led to the slaughter is non-other than Jesus betrayed, abandoned, and abused, who not out of weakness, but rather with the greatest of strength, chooses forgiveness and mercy in the face of suffering and death. 

Following the way of the cross we are offered another path, the path of Christ:  the path of sacrifice, the path of forgiveness, the path of Love.  Our forbearers chose this path for Christ Church, and offer it again to us in the imagery of Cross above us and the Agnus Dei all about us, for this is the very path of Christ the King.