“All the nations will be gathered before him.”

Watching for the morning of November 23

Year C

Christ the King:
Proper 29 / Lectionary 34

File:Palais du Tau - Christ portant le globe.jpg

Original statue of Christ the King with the globe. Preserved in the palais du Tau in Reims (Marne, France).

For all our concern about language and gender equality there is something primal, archetypal, about the notion of kingship. When the true, just and wise king is on the throne all is well in the land. When the usurper rules, all is corrupted.

The just king cares for the lowly. The just king sees what is done in his lands. The just king rights wrongs and in the presence of his justice, the people prosper.

Power corrupts. Those who lust for power, who seize power, are corrupted and corrupting; they are not the source of gracious order but insecurity and instability. Those who do not seek it, to whom power and authority are entrusted, are able to rule with the light touch and just hand that are required.

So the young King Arthur, when just a squire, pulls the sword from the stone unknowing. George Washington is prevailed upon to accept the presidency – and refuses a third term lest it become a lifetime appointment. King David is a shepherd boy, offended by Goliath, not an aspirant to the throne. (Until Bathsheba comes along, anyway.) Jesus is the just and righteous king who saves his sheep. He does not, like the Jerusalem leaders confronted by Ezekiel, feed on them.

In this modern era when have witnessed fascisms and tyrannies of terrible stripe, when kings and leaders and rebels slaughter the sheep rather than protect them, when people are thought to serve the state (or the economy, ideology, movement, company or religion) rather than the state serving the people – in such an epoch as ours, the church wisely declares that Christ is King. Only Christ Jesus can claim our lives without taking them. Only Christ Jesus can summon our service without stealing our humanity. Only Christ Jesus is the just and righteous one. Only Christ Jesus is our true king.

Sunday is the feast of Christ the King and the final Sunday of the church year. We will read more words about judgment, but the dominant note is the just and faithful reign of God in Christ. Ezekiel will blast the leaders of his day but make the strange dual promise that God will be our shepherd – and give us a new shepherd. The psalm sings thanksgiving, summoning us to kneel before our maker, “a great King above all gods,” for “we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” Ephesians will speak of Christ ascended and all things placed under his feet. And Matthew records for us that great and profound parable about the sorting of humanity like sheep from goats.

In a world with a myriad voices demanding we kneel before earthly dominions and rulers, we come to kneel before the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep and declares as his family “the least of these”: the hungry, the stranger, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned.

The Prayer for November 23, 2014

Eternal God, Lord of all,
before you every human community and every human life must stand,
and by the example of your Son, Jesus, be measured.
Grant us an abundance of his Spirit,
that as he brought your grace to the fallen and your healing to the broken,
we too may be agents of your compassion;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for November 23, 2014

First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
“I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.” – God speaks a word of judgment upon the shepherds of Israel (the leaders of the nation) who take care of themselves rather than the people in their care. God will be their shepherd and gather his scattered flock. He will judge between the fat and the lean sheep and appoint a new David to govern them.

Psalmody: Psalm 95:1-7a
“O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” – In these opening verses of Psalm 95, the poet calls the community to acclaim God, the creator of all, as their king.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23
“He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things.” –
With soaring poetry, the author of Ephesians offers his prayer for the community – prayer that rises into praise of God who raised Christ Jesus “above all rule and authority” and placed all things under his feet.

Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory… All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” – The final parable of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel is this vivid declaration that the nations will be judged by their treatment of “the least of these” with whom the Son of Man identifies himself: “as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.”