The last Sunday of ordinary time, the Sunday next before Advent, the Feast day of Christ the King. All are titles for today as we approach the end of the church’s year.
For me this Sunday is always a good time for deep reflection, for looking back over the year that has past before we move next week to Advent, a season of looking forwards with both anticipation and expectation. So today let’s try to reflect on the past year and how and what we might take from it.
It may be the last Sunday in ordinary time but it’s safe to say it’s been no ordinary year! And this year will end much as the next will start, in a state of semi lockdown with and church’s unable to meet for public worship, a situation that has been the case for approximately half of this church’s year. And when we can and do meet together it’s now in very different circumstances with no singing, faces hidden behind masks, the inability to share the peace in a way which permits that human touch with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And no coffee!! Most of us need coffee at the end of a service both for fellowship with fellow Christians and to keep us awake after the LLM has just delivered another dull and boring sermon (note the Rector and clergy and the AP’s are not in the same category). No Choir, one of the pillars and corner posts of our church and worship. No home groups or Knitty Stitchers or any other fellowship group meeting in person. Yes, it really hasn’t been a normal year!
But it hasn’t always been like this. For we started the year with a wonderful Advent season, packed churches for our crib services, an Alpha course, Pancake race and a seeming optimism and dynamism that gave us all hope and expectation. The beginning of the year was perhaps tinged with sadness as we bade farewell to our Director of Music Lee Dunleavy and his lovely wife Sally. But generally, we started on a bright and positive note. How things changed in the face of a national and international pandemic! Perhaps we can be forgiven for being somewhat downbeat as we conclude this church’s year. Perhaps now with a vaccine on the horizon and the hope of better things to come we can approach the Advent season with a fresh sense of expectation and hope!
But back to today. Having become very quickly Zoom Christians, and having learned to do church by technology, we do, thanks to modern ways of working, still have the ability to meet together, albeit in a virtual way. I have to confess I don’t enjoy being a Zoom Christian anything like as much as I do being in church. I can’t deliver this address with the feeling and emphasis that I’d like to simply by typing it out. But that we can come together at all and share together is a gift for which we are grateful. We have technology. We have so many abilities and capabilities now that even half a decade ago would have made the virus so much more restrictive. And yet we also reflect that, despite all of these major advances in science and technology, one minute little virus, invisible to the human eye but the effects of which are so plainly obvious as they thwart the passage of everyday life, could reap so much havoc. Perhaps it proves above all else that, however much they might think they have, mankind is not in control!
And it was perhaps with that thought, that man is not in control, that earlier in the year, very early in the onset of this pandemic as the nation gathered on its doorsteps to applaud and show appreciation to our NHS that, I took a break from a Planning Committee meeting that I was taking part in, went outside with the majority of the rest of the nation, and simply looked upwards to a darkening sky with a bright moon already shining and found myself offering this simple prayer: “Lord, I’ve no idea what’s going on here or where this is all going or why it’s happening. But I know you do, and I trust you’re in control.” Perhaps at times this year we’ve all doubted that God is in control. I know I’m guilty of doing so. But yet I also trust that the hope, the resilience, the dogged determination that for most of the time has overridden the darkness of this year is lead firmly by the fact that we as Christians do recognise that God is in control. We may not understand what’s going on, but our hope is in the fact that God does! He knows. Because he is Christ the King!
That image of Christ the King and with today being the last Sunday of the Church’s year always brings to mind for me that verse from Psalm 65, so often used at Harvest Thanksgiving services. “Thou visitest the earth and blessest it and makest it very plenteous. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness.” Even as we finish this year in perhaps a darker and more uncomfortable place than we’re used to, we do so in the knowledge that God is Good, that he still provides and that because he is King, so he still crowns the year with his goodness. And so with that hope in our heart and that residing thought firmly in our minds that Christ is King, and that as we reflect on this past year and all its highs and lows, all its gifts and shortcomings we, do so with a hope that the Christian faith alone can bring. That hope, that rock on which we build our faith, that soil into which we put down our roots of faith, that gentle watering rain and that warm sunshine to nurture and grow is indeed Christ in His Kingship.
I want to conclude as I so often do with some words of an old Sunday School Chorus and to leave the summary of perhaps how we all feel at the end of this church’s year to someone much more articulate with words than me. I’m sure that Alfred Smith didn’t write these words over 50 years ago with an international pandemic in his mind, but I think they summarise our hope as Christians on this feast day of Christ the King so well.
I do not know what lies ahead, the way I cannot see;
But one stands there to be my guide, who’ll show the way to me.
I know who holds the future, and He’ll guide me with His hand,
With God things don’t just happen, everything by Him is planned.
So, as I face tomorrow with its problems large and small,
I’ll trust the God of miracles, give to him my all!