Sermon delivered on the Feast of Christ the King by Mary Rathbone, 20th November 2022.
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. We celebrate Christ, risen, ascended and glorified. It is also the last Sunday in the Church’s liturgical year. And next Sunday, we start our new year by celebrating the birth of Christ during the season of Advent.
I’d like to talk to you this morning about Heaven and Earth and Jacobs’s ladder …. and Jesus of course.
In the Old Testament, the Patriarch Jacob had a dream in which he saw a staircase to heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it.
This was a significant moment in the Abrahamic, Muslim and Christian faith. The staircase became known as Jacobs Ladder. Various constructions depicting Jacob’s ladder have been built worldwide in response to Jacob’s dream since. They are often made as pathways to sacred places at a higher level.
But did you know we have our own Jacobs Ladder right here in Hatfield? It is a steep, narrow column of steps climbing from Batterdale up to Church Street, arriving at a point just below the south gate of the churchyard. I think It’s amazing that Hatfield has its own stairway to heaven, right on our doorstep, and I wondered how many more there were in the UK?
A quick Google search revealed some larger ones at Hope Valley in the Peak District, and Cheddar Gorge in Somerset. There is even one carved into Edinburgh’s volcanic rocks.
What is the significance of Jacobs Ladder?
The Garden of Paradise in the book of Genesis was a place we know God visited. So it was a link between heaven and earth, but the connection was broken when Adam and Eve disobeyed God.
The story of Jacobs Ladder also appears in the book of Genesis. The staircase and angels ascending and descending upon it, represented God being there in that place, if only for a while in a dream. So, the seed of a new link between heaven and earth was sown.
Jacob called the place where he had the dream, Bethel, meaning God’s house. Jacob’s dream foretold how God would eventually link heaven and earth together again.
The Tabernacle that the Jewish people carried before them in the wilderness was God’s dwelling place on earth for a while. When they were finally able to build a temple, the tabernacle was placed in the Holy of Holies. This was the place of God’s presence on earth until Christ’s death.
Because, when Jesus died on the cross the link with the temple was broken as heaven and earth came together in Him. He fulfilled the promise of Jacob’s dream by becoming the staircase from earth to heaven.
The Gospel Reading
In the gospel reading this morning, Luke 23: 33-34 we heard the criminal crucified next to Jesus, asking him to ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus replied, ‘Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
Paradise means heaven in the Bible, but do you ever wonder where heaven actually is? I know I do!
Heaven is, quite simply, where God is. He exists in a different dimension to us or on another plane. But I believe that dimension is really quite close – nearby and all around us. Because we are told God is always near and hears our prayers and that we should draw ever closer to him. Also, Jesus said When two or three of you gather in my name, I am in their midst.
As we commence our Eucharistic prayer later, remember this when Fr Darren says; The Lord is Here, and we reply, His Spirit is With Us. Because this is a time of intersection between heaven and earth. A time when heaven and earth come together for a short while in this place.
The reading from the letter to the Colossians this morning tells us the same things but slightly differently.
The beautiful and poetical words St Paul uses tell us in essence, that at one time, we were separated from God (by the fall) and were ignorant of God’s ways.
But because of God’s love for us and all creation, he sent his only son Jesus whose death on the cross somehow reconciled all that had gone wrong in the world, and within ourselves. It somehow fulfilled all the prophesies revealed to the prophets in the Old Testament.
What does this mean for us today?
We can become people of heaven and earth today through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. But to live in heaven, in the presence of God, we must live a life of worship, of holiness, of sacrifice. This is a lifelong commitment and we achieve this hope by taking baby steps towards it each day.
I asked myself what baby steps we might take in the season of Advent to honour Christ the King? Then I thought long and hard over the question, and this thought came to my mind.
We all have unique skills and gifts given to us by God. So we might think carefully about our particular talents and select just one to work with during Advent this year. Perhaps God will guide us so we can use that particular gift to gently shine his light in the world and draw others into our churches.
Of course, we all know, it’s not easy to develop the church in the world today. It can be a bit like climbing a modern-day Jacob’s ladder construction – hard work.
But Jesus has made it easy for us to climb to our place in heaven, He said; Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:29