Jesus said: Who do you say I am?
Like most people, I expect, who think about the Bible at all, I have parts I return to again and again in my mind. And that question of Jesus to his disciples is one of them.
I’m sure you’ll remember the occasion he asked it. It is in Marks Gospel, just after the feeding of the four thousand. Jesus is reflecting with his disciples on what has just happened. He asks first, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples report on various things they have heard people saying about Jesus. Then he asks the more direct question, to people who, because they were closest to him, might have had deeper insight – “But what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers. “You are the Messiah.”
I keep returning to this question because, for me, it is possibly the central question of faith. Who do we say that Jesus is? The answer we give to that goes to the heart of our faith.
And although we have not read the story I have just briefly retold, I’m thinking about this question because of this day. On Friday evening, I was in St Michael’s and all Saints Scottish Episcopal Church, near Tollcross and, for a concert. The church had already been made ready for this morning. The green altar cloth had been put away and, in its place, the altar was dressed in gold. It was a very visible indication that is today is the feast of Christ the King.
This is a Sunday which has gradually been growing insignificance over recent years. Until about twenty years ago, very few people in the Church of Scotland would have heard of it. Hardly any congregations would have observed it. But it is one of the great and undoubted gifts of the ecumenical movement that churches learn from each other, and insights and traditions are shared, to the benefit and enrichment of all. So, over the last couple of decades, many congregations have begun to mark and appreciate the feast of Christ the King.
It falls on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next week is the First Sunday of Advent, and we move on to Matthew’s Gospel as our guiding gospel through most of the year. And we begin again by looking forward to the coming of Christ, which gives the context for our remembrance of his birth, his ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension and his sending of the Holy Spirit. In this way, the church seeks consciously to live its life in the context of the life of Christ. It may sound repetitive, but it isn’t, because every time we read and think about the stories of Jesus, we do so as different people, changed by the experiences we have had since last we read them. So just as we look forward to a new liturgical year, this Sunday invites us to look back. Who have we said Jesus is in the year since last Advent Sunday?
Though we change and develop, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and for ever. In the words of today’s psalm, he is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble. He is the eternal Son of God, who was born in humility in a stable in Bethlehem; who, in helplessness, was entrusted to human parents; who, as a young man, taught us all we actually need to know to live in reconciled relationship with God; who was ultimately betrayed, abandoned and killed, only to triumph over death. This is who we say Jesus is.
It is an unconventional story. No one expected that this was how God would act to redeem the world. Many, as we know, cannot believe it yet. But still, in the sketchiest possible terms, this is the story of the one under whose guidance we live our lives, whose example we seek to follow, whose story gives our lives meaning and whose promises give us hope. This is the story, to use the terminology of today, of our king.
And it is in the description of his crucifixion, a story which is always difficult to read, that we see most clearly and he was, he is – humble, loving, obedient, forgiving, suffering, dignified even in pain and mockery, compassionate, at one with those society rejects, because he himself was rejected. This is the one we acknowledge to be our King, the ultimate authority in our lives.
And this both raises and answers another question. Who do we say that we are? On this day, looking back over a year lived in Christ and looking forward to year in which we hope to grow in faith and continue in service we declare afresh, we are disciples of Christ, our King and we offer ourselves anew to him.