There is a great Cecil Spring Rice poem that is better known for the Gustav Holst music it is often sung to. It is an appropriate anthem for today’s feast of Christ the King.
Take a moment before listening to the hymn, to reflect on the poem. The first two verses, (especially the second) presents an earthly kingdom – the achievement of human efforts and military stealth and might.
The third stanza presents a different kind of kingdom, and it is this focus of today’s feast: “her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.”
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
The recording I have chosen is taken from Princess Diana’s funeral. The melody is from Holst’s Jupiter from the Planets Suite. The connection is a helpful reminder…on earth Diana had all the privilege of earthly royality and kingdoms. But for all of this she did not seem to find the happiness she sought.
At her funeral (no problem that they left out the second verse) the singing of this hymn brought a message of great hope: “and there’s another kingdom…”
This is what we celebrate today: the feast of Christ the King.