“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday in Pentecost before we begin a new church year and the season of Advent. So Happy New Year, kind of or Happy New Church Year and 2021 is just around the corner. I don’t know about you but I’m ready to see 2020 in the rearview mirror. So, what is Christ the King Sunday? Well, it is a feast day in which we are called to recognize the kingly nature of Christ. This Christ the King or Reign of Christ day, which it is also called, always falls on the Sunday before Advent. It is a relatively new feast day that was started by Pope Pius XI and was added to the Roman Catholic calendar in 1925 and then added to the other liturgical calendars not long afterwards. Over the long season of Pentecost, we have been reflecting on the life and ministry of Jesus as he proclaimed the coming of the kingdom. This reflection on the waiting for the kingdom is appropriate as we transition from Pentecost to the season of Advent. So, what is this kingdom that we are to inherit, that is being prepared for us and who is it that is inviting us into it and how do we express our gratitude for this precious gift?
In our Epistle reading this morning we hear Paul say “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” This message of gratitude seems appropriate as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week. Further on in the reading Paul states “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” So, what is Paul saying here? I think this is a reminder that we are all interconnected to each other and to God. During this season of thanks, we are reminded of all the loved ones with us and those we will not get to be with. We are especially mindful of those who will be absent this year, as we are called to keep our gatherings smaller in an effort to love and care for family and friends from this sickness that continues to plague our communities. We are also mindful of those loved ones who have died. While we are prevented from gathering in person, we are reminded of our interconnectedness. Like root systems that travel under the ground and become interconnected, we all share in this love that is interconnected and nurtures us and gives us what we need to be strong in faith like strong oak trees that hold one another up through their interconnected root systems. This underground support system is not seen but revealed in the expanding branches of the forest of trees that it supports. Paul is giving thanks this morning for the young and growing community of Jesus followers in Ephesus. Paul is giving thanks for their support of each other in following the way of Christ, but like every growing thing or person, we often need measurements or wellness checks to make sure we are on the right path or that there is nothing threatening to what lies beneath. This spiritual wellness check is what we get this morning in our Gospel reading.
I’m sure most, if not all of us, here this morning has at one point or another had a physical. During my discernment and formation to ministry, I was required to undergo physicals per the requirements of the church. When I played football in high school, we were required to have a physical just prior to the season beginning. These physicals or wellness checks are intended to be preventative and look for health issues that might lie beneath the skin. Our Gospel reading this morning comes just before the Passion. It is Jesus’ last instructions that come after a long series of six parables and warnings about living responsibly and being ready for the coming of the Son of Man. While I love the portion of this reading that reveals to us who we are to serve and why we are to serve them, I have always been perplexed by the separating of the sheep and the goats. This, do this or you are going to face judgement approach to salvation that implies there will be those who are left out and those who are in. This is called a dualistic approach to salvation, and has always run contrary to my personal thoughts about the unearned grace of God that is shared with everyone.
There is also a lot of language about the kingdom of God and the gathering of nations which I think implies that Jesus is the son of David and the Messiah that makes this Gospel reading appropriate for Christ the King Sunday. However, I wonder if I have been looking at this reading wrong as I try to reconcile the judgement language in this reading? The author of Matthew believes that the kingdom of God and the return of the Son of Man is coming soon. As a result, the author is trying to tell us that we are supposed to care for the needy because they are the embodiment of Jesus. In Liberation Theology this is referred to as the preferential treatment for the poor. This is the heart of the will of God that is revealed in the Torah. I wonder if we are both the sheep and the goats. Maybe the separating is not of those individuals that act one way or another, but rather it is the separating of our goat-ness characteristics that we all exhibit from time to time from our natural sheep-ness characteristics that are our true nature. In serving the needy, in serving those who are hungry, thirsty, lost, naked, and in prison, we are caring for those people who we are interconnected with at the roots. We are caring for the Jesus that is within each of them. We are living into our Baptismal Covenant to seek and serve Christ in all others. It is when we are doing this that we are doing Christianity. We are then building up the Kingdom of Christ.
On this Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded about the part we play in building up the kingdom that our Lord and Savior tells us is coming. When we pray as our Lord taught us, we pray for the kingdom to come, not for us to be sent to some far-off place because the kingdom is already around us. As we turn our attention to Advent and the season of waiting for the Christ Child that will enter our world, we are reminded that a King humbled himself. We are reminded that God humbled himself by becoming human so that he could enter into a human relationship with us. God comes to us. We are reminded of this every time we approach God’s table and commune with him in the Eucharist.
This year and this season of waiting will look much different. But as it begins, we might want to take a minute to do a wellness check a spiritual wellness check. Do we have roots that are intermingled and strengthened by our participation with loving communities? Are we serving those in need? This season of new beginnings gives us a chance to audit our spiritual lives. As Christians we are called to love. What does that look like for us? How do we do this love? Maybe while we are waiting on Jesus during this Advent season, we can seek out ways to be Jesus.
Christ the King Sunday: Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, Alabama
The Rev. Drew Brislin
Sunday, November 22, 2020