Christ the King – ‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown’: trusting God beyond all others

IMG_0528On Tuesday night there was a programme on BBC1 Wales about the rap artist Stormzy. His style of music is a mix of rap and Gospel and it provided a gentle, calming at the end of the day. One song cut through for me, his track ‘Crown’. It was the line “But heavy is the head that wears the crown” that made me sit up a take notice. Those who are fans of Shakespeare will recognise that straight away as being a popularised version of Henry IV, Part 2 (Act 3, Scene 1), where the burden of leadership for the king draws the comment “Uneasy is the head that wears the crown”. It is a line that comes in response to the king’s inability to sleep as war approached.

The idea of the crown being heavy to wear is never far away when we celebrate Christ the King, when we use the imagery of kingship to talk of Christ. When in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels, Jesus asks his disciples who they say he is and they give the dramatic reply that he is the Christ, the Son of God, it is followed by his talking about his approaching death and resurrection (Matthew 16:13-21; Mark 8:27-31; Luke 9:18-22). This burden, this responsibility, that comes with being the Son of God, the Christ, the Promised One, the one who will save, God among us, is heavy on his head. And of course, the crown he wears is the crown of thorns, if it wasn’t clear enough. That would make anyone’s head heavy or uneasy.

Stormzy’s song begins with him searchin’ every corner of (his) mind, looking for the answers (he) can’t find. The searching, the looking, the desiring, is heavy too. It brings for him implied responsibilities. He is struggling with fame and what that brings. “Any little seed I receive, I have to share it” and “Any little bread that I make, I have to break it”. Is that bread as in money, sharing gifts received, as thanksgiving becomes generosity, even obligation? Does it carry the echo of Christ at the Last Supper, breaking bread to share his life, his love and his blessing? If that seems fanciful, each section of the song begins with a reference to Jesus, “Amen, in Jesus’ name, … I claim it” or “declare it”. The Gospel element of his music gives this a double meaning of personal fame and leadership, and how we mirror, imitate Christ as his followers.

Sharing bread, breaking bread, be it in the Eucharist around the altar or sharing money and things, connects us with the heart of bowing down before this Christ as king. We share in his banquet as invited honoured guests, where we are fed for service, sustained for the psychological and spiritual battles that lie ahead. And there are many as we contend with doubts and fears, anxieties and struggles, competing visions and convictions, power struggles and the games people play. We share of our resources in feeding and giving. We also share them in a challenge to the economics of our society which can be ordered to protect only self-interest, which is a false narrative because the best protection comes collectively rather than in isolation. It is surely not beyond our whit to so order this that all flourish in the goodness and bounty of God.

I am struggling in my mind at the moment with the nature of our economy which is not working. It seems to be based on a system of illusions. Money is not really based on anything tangible. It is based on trust, the trust that there is a stable government that will collectively order society so that we can function. The £10 in your wallet or purse is only worth whatever that is worth because everyone agrees it is, or at least enough do. As soon as that is threatened it collapses like the ephemeral pack of cards. Governments issue bank notes, create money, and pay for it with debts that they create and issue where interest is paid to those who buy that debt, and the governments pay for that by printing, creating money, some of which comes out of taxes and the moving of goods and services in exchange for more imaginary tokens. And round it goes in an extremely complex web of trust. But there is actually nothing there, nothing tangible – not since the gold standard ended in 1931. There is no pile of anything tangible behind our financial system. The small boy who shouts ‘the king has no clothes’, is perceptive and also deeply worrying, because as soon as everyone agrees, it all crashes. Ever wondered why we are in a crisis? And this system works for those who can play it, and against those who can’t. My worry is that this system has become a monster that eats the more vulnerable, if not itself.

It is not surprising that those who manage this, have heavy heads. Who wouldn’t have. They are juggling with the wind. It makes my head hurt just trying to comprehend it. Leadership based on fantasy, on illusion, is not at all as secure as it might want to be. It is always vulnerable to the small boy pointing out the illusion-come-delusion of the king wearing no clothes.

All leadership is based on a system of trust. There has to be something real and honest behind it, otherwise it really is chasing after the wind, as the book of Ecclesiastes would put it (1:14). Referring to Christ as king, brings not quite the strong image we might conjure up, the clothes that are not there. It brings vulnerability to events, to plots, to the machinations of fortune. And when Christ adopts this title he does so with embracing the cross, the passion, the crown of thorns, his death. 

The glory comes with the resurrection and what that displays about him. He is the one whose status transcends the changes and chances of a fleeting world. This is a kingship that goes to the other level. Stormzy struggles with looking for answers, with his purpose and the responsibility that goes with the status of being an image leader, one others look to. Christ struggles in the garden with the cup he is about to take, with the passion he is about to endure. ‘Heavy is the head that wears this crown.’ And thanks be to God that he does because through it all of us find there is a lasting place of redemption and salvation. This king has clothes, has substance and lasts beyond even death. We can trust in him beyond all others.

Sermon for Christ the King, Newport Cathedral, Sunday 20th November 2022

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About Ian Black

Ian is an Anglican priest and Dean of Newport Cathedral in the Church in Wales. He was previously Vicar of Peterborough and Canon Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral in the Church of England Diocese of Peterborough. He served as Rural Dean of Peterborough for 5 years. Prior to moving to Peterborough, Ian was in Leeds for 10 years, as Vicar of Whitkirk and as a member of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral. He has also worked in Kent in Maidstone and as priest-in-charge of a group of parishes in Faversham. He was a Minor Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, a prison chaplain and Assistant Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Canterbury in partnership with the Diocese of Rochester. Prior to ordination Ian had a career in tax, both with the Inland Revenue as a PAYE Auditor and a firm of Chartered Accountants as a Tax Accountant. Ian was born and grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon and is a former head chorister at Shakespeare’s Church – Holy Trinity. He studied in Canterbury, Lincoln Theological College and has a Master of Divinity degree from Nottingham University. He is married with two sons. Publications include three books of prayers: Prayers for all occasions (SPCK 2011), Intercessions for Years A, B & C (SPCK 2009) and Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days (SPCK 2005). His most recent book, Follow me: living the sayings of Jesus, was published by Sacristy Press on 1st July 2017. There is also a hymn based on this – Christ the Saviour. Other online writings can be found under the Books & Publications tab above. He has been writing online since the mid 1990s and was a contributing blogger to the ReJesus website. Ian is a keen photographer and these frequently appear in his Facebook and Twitter posts.
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