What is a king? That’s certainly been a topic of discussion this week, with the announcement of the Royal Engagement. I’m sure some of you are already tired of hearing about it – especially since William and Kate’s engagement was no sooner announced than there was talk of where and when the wedding would be, how soon they would be crowned king and queen and even how soon they would have children. Not to mention all the commemorative tat that is already being talked of and the anticipated boost in the fortunes of the few remaining Staffordshire pottery businesses. While, meantime, real news, is shunted from the front pages and the world stops turning. Not the most helpful or positive portrait of a king. Today, in the church, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. It’s the last Sunday of the church year. Next week, Advent Sunday, marks the beginning of the new church year when the cycle begins all over again. Recognising Christ as King seems a good way to end the church year. So this IS as special day. As well as celebrating Christ as King, today we mark the beginning of Guild week - The Guild motto – Whose we are and whom we serve – recognises Christ as king. And we are also asked to mark this week as Prisoners week, reflecting on all those incarcerated at this time and those who serve and minister to them. Jesus had a very revealing conversation with the two prisoners who were crucified alongside him at Calvary. Even in the throes of death himself, Jesus threw one of the prisoners a lifeline. To the prisoner who was repentant, who recognised Jesus for the king he was, Jesus said “Today you will be with me in paradise” THAT is the kind of king whose reign we celebrate today. A king who sees individuals. A king who has compassion on all who suffer. A king who extends grace that is truly amazing. I wonder how many of you can tell me WHO is prisoner number 24601? Of course, it’s Jean Valjean from Les Mis. That wonderful show, that’s been doing the rounds over 25years now, sharing wonderful music AND a wonderful story. The story is set in Paris of the 1830s, amidst poverty and rebellion. Jean Valjean, having served 19 years in prison for stealing bread, emerges angry and embittered. His theft of silver candlesticks from a church finds him once again in a brush with the law. But then, something really stunning happens: The Bishop ( who could have him locked up again in an instant) gifts the candlesticks to Jean. JEan is shown a remarkable and totally unexpected act of grace. Jean Valjean goes on to make something of his life: He builds a successful business and becomes mayor of his town. Many folk have come to depend on him. However, somewhere along the way, he has broken the terms of his parole, the law catches up with him and Jean Valjean becomes, once again, prisoner 24601. It’s the opposite of that that we see Jesus doing in his encounter with the prisoners executed alongside him. He raises them from the ranks of common, nameless criminals. And, out of his grace he promises one of them: You shall be with me in paradise.
It’s hard to see Jesus as king, when his sovereignty took him to a cross.But the kingship of Jesus confounds all our notions of that role.Jesus is a king who rides a donkey, as we sang earlier.Jesus is a king who frees prisoners and bestows worth on those whom society has written off.Jesus is a king who gives a name to the nameless. Who kisses lepers. Who washes feet. A very different king. The end of a year is usually a time for taking stock.