Sunday 26 November
Year A: Sunday next before Advent
Liturgical Colour: White
- Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24
- Psalm 95: 1-7
- Ephesians 1: 15-23
- Matthew 25: 31-46
The Feast of Christ the King dates back to 1925 and was adopted into Common Worship in 1997. It is the final Sunday before Advent and therefore the last Sunday in the liturgical year. The annual cycle that began last Advent with the hope for the coming Messiah is fulfilled with the proclamation of his universal sovereignty.
It was approved in the aftermath of World War One by Pope Pius XV1. He had observed that although there was a cessation of hostilities there was no true peace. On the contrary, bubbling under the surface were rising unrest, nationalism and social division. He declared that as Christ’s authority was not won by violence but given by God, only he was therefore worthy to be King of Kings and Prince of Peace. Pius further noted that Christ didn’t rule through fear of physical harm, but rather reigned in peoples’ minds by his teaching, and in their hearts by his love.
The idea of Christ as King is also profoundly biblical. The Jews long-awaited Messiah was envisaged as being a king like David, sitting on a throne and restoring justice. Matthew’s gospel in particular makes the connection of this hope with Jesus, for example in Matthew 21. 5. This is echoed later in the New Testament, for example in John 12. 15, Hebrews 1. 3, 8; and especially in Revelation 17. 14 and 19. 16.
Perhaps most intriguing references to kingship though, are made during Jesus’ interrogation under Pontius Pilate. Pilate was of course representing the Roman Emperor; ultimate royalty and seat of power at the time (John 18. 28-38). Pilate asks Jesus directly ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ (John 18. 33), to which Jesus first asks ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ before replying ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ (John 18.36). Pilate of course could find nothing against him, but in the end, at the request of the religious authorities, condemned him to death nonetheless.
Those same authorities complained bitterly when Pilate had the inscription ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’ mounted on the cross (19. 19-22). This was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek but is most often depicted in Latin, as in the picture above, with the letters ‘INRI’ representing Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum.
Both of the above perspectives highlight the difference between worldly power, attained and retained by violence, fear and oppression and Jesus’ gentle but ultimately stronger authority of love, light and life; the former imposed, the latter offered.
Themes around judgement at the coming of the Messiah will be picked up again during Advent. In our reading today from Matthew, Jesus sets out the benchmarks against which that judgement is made. They are very much in keeping with the background notes above. Jesus continues to resist and subvert worldly preoccupations. His judgements in the end were not about right belief or right allegiance or right ritual. Rather they were about how much people had lived kingdom values, even if they were unaware of it at the time; specifically, whether they gave help to those in need, were hospitable to those who seemed strange to them, cared for the sick and were present to those who were condemned or imprisoned.
A prayer for Christ the King by Janet Morley
most holy and most humble,
you have chosen to hear our cry
and share our poverty.
Come close to our world,
kindle our hearts,
and melt our despair,
that with all your creatures
we may live in hope
through Jesus Christ our King. Amen
Morley, J. (2006). All Desires Known. Church Publishing, Inc. p 25
The theme of the day is Christ as ruler of all things.
Are there parts of your life or church that are not ruled by the love of Jesus, but rather, are governed by fear? Perhaps, in line with the activities in our city and town centres, it is time to switch on the light!