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Last Sunday after Pentecost. Christ the King

Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4-8; John 18:33-37 Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people... Those of you who grew up in a very traditional Anglican, or Episcopal, family or milieu will probably remember Stir Up Sunday, until recently the Third Sunday of Advent. The odd name derives from the first words of the Collect assigned for the day in the revered 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded... Nowadays, the Collect has migrated to the Sunday before Advent; namely, today. Making today, arguably, Stir Up Sunday. The collect is actually taken from an even older Latin collect or prayer, which begins with the simple word, excita, which means more or less the same thing as stir up and is the source of our English word excite. So perhaps we should actually call Stir Up Sunday Exciting Sunday, no matter when we keep it. As it stands, Stir Up Sunday comes as well at the end of a long string of Sundays extending from Trinity to Advent and which is in church circles sometimes called Ordinary Time, perhaps to distinguish it from the string of Sundays marking the extra-ordinary events in the life of Christ and the Church recounted in the liturgical calendar from Advent to Pentecost. As Ordinary Time now comes to its annual conclusion, the Church seems to think that we ought to be stirring things up again, that we ought to once again allow ourselves to get excited about our faith and life in Christ. After all, with the coming of the holy Advent season, something new is about to happen, something unprecedented; something we really ought to be getting worked up about. In fact, according to some liturgical scholars, the collects of all the Sundays of Advent in earlier ages began with the admonition to stir up, imploring the Lord to again rouse us from spiritual lethargy and torpor; so important to humankind was the coming of the Christ. Nowadays by the way, in our current liturgy, our stir up collect has migrated even further, becoming the Post-Communion Prayer for today, as we shall shortly hear. It seems somehow better to ask the Lord to stir us up – get us excited – as we prepare to leave church. After all, as we return to our everyday round of activities, we dare not forget the stirring Good News of the Gospel. Perhaps we should start each day with these words: Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people... I do not suppose that too many world leaders today would be entirely comfortable with this prayer, with the idea of the people they govern being stirred up, except perhaps at election rallies organised by themselves on their own behalf. Better that the people should remain content with things as they are, happy to go along and get along, busy about their routine tasks and causing no problems for those in charge. Few governments can be entirely comfortable with demonstrators in the streets all stirred up, marching and yelling slogans, even if in the name of the most sensible of ideas, such as care for the environment and world we inhabit.

Today is also the Festival Day of Christ the King, an observance which began in the Roman Catholic Church shortly after World War One during the final dissolution of papal power in Italy, making it one of the newest observances of the church calendar. It became in a sense the Roman Church’s way of saying to the world, papal power or no, Christ is still in charge. Christ is king. And that remains worth getting excited about in any day and age. The idea caught on, and the Day is nowadays commemorated by Christians of many backgrounds and persuasions, including most Anglicans. These days, of course, all of us must wonder from time to time if anyone is in charge at all. Pull out your Smartphone after the service today and check your newsfeed, if you do not believe me. Civil wars one after the other in parts of Africa; mass murder every other day in the United States; pandemic and disease everywhere; migrants massing at the borders of Europe; trade wars in Asia; threats of worldwide inflation. What is going on...? Where is God when we need God...? Is anyone in charge? Similar troubling thoughts must have crossed the minds of the disciples as they witnessed, or later heard about, Jesus being interrogated by Pilate, as we find in today’s haunting reading from the Gospel of John. Some king Jesus was proving to be, the disciples must have thought. The crucifixion must have confirmed their worst fears. Their hearts and minds were surely anything but stirred up. More like downcast and forlorn. Yet in spite of their despair and dejection, the disciples came to see that Christ was king in ways Pilate – and much of the world then as today – could never imagine or understand. And, then they too were stirred up. The Church still boldly calls upon the Lord to get busy and stir up its people and their wills, as were the minds and wills of the early disciples. The Church still petitions the Lord to revive our spirits and get us busy with good works. Not that we should have ever slacked off, of course. But from time to time, we do need to be shaken up – stirred up – in our faith. And, what better time than at, or just before, the Advent season, as we prepare ourselves once again to celebrate the Incarnation, God’s final and greatest act of love and dominion. Whatever one may think of monarchs and royalty, or even the long-gone secular power of popes, it is important to remind ourselves from time to time of who is really in charge. And while some astronomers and physicists may assure us that actually no one is in charge in the vast universe around us, the Incarnation remains God’s assurance that it is surely otherwise. “My kingdom is not from here,” Jesus tells Pilate in what is one of the most remarkable statements in all Christian literature. Ultimately, our Kingdom is also “not from here;” for our Kingdom is Christ’s Kingdom. If that does not stir you up, I do not know what will. In earlier ages, Stir Up Sunday was also the official start of the Christmas baking season, as housewives – mostly housewives back then – stirred up puddings and cake batter and filled them not with the fruit of good works as our Collect advises, but with fruit, period. Candied fruit, mostly. And nuts and sweets. Fruitcake in other words as sacramental sign of the good works we are all called to. But if fruitcake is what it takes to stir up our flagging spirits during these ever more troubling times, I say bring on the cakes and puddings. Meanwhile, Christ is king, now and always, and for ever and ever. Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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