The Feast of Christ the King today is the final Sunday of the Christian year: Advent begins next Sunday. This is also my last day of association with Saint Matthew’s Church in Sand Springs, my last day of service as priest here, my last Mass. I am entering full retirement from active ministry. So this is a time of endings and also anticipation of new beginnings.
Today we speak of Christ as our King, one who rules in our hearts and lives. That would have been a strange image for first century followers, for whom kings were all-powerful personages whose focus was on building personal power and wealth. King Jesus, on the contrary, kept his focus on loving, selfless service of others. Very very different indeed. The great Anglican theologian and writer Dorothy Sayers once released a series of radio plays called “The Man Born to Be King.” Therein, in the scene of the visit of the Magi, Mary expresses confusion as to what these visitors and their lavish gifts might portend of her son. One magus says, “I speak for the sorrowful people, for the ignorant and poor. We rise to labour and lie down to sleep, and night is only a pause between one burden and another. Fear is our daily companion — the fear of want, the fear of war, the fear of cruel death, and, still more, of cruel life. But all this we could bear if we knew that we did not suffer in vain, that God was beside us in the struggle, sharing the miseries of his own world.” That is, of course, how we see God revealed in Jesus, in his life and in his death on the cross. That is who Jesus is for us.
But who are we for Jesus? Our gospel pericope (Mt. 25: 31-46) answers that question. Our King effects his second coming and conducts judgement in which he separates humanity into two groups — those who are actively compassionate and those who are not. The criterion he applies is helping those who lack the basic necessities of life: those suffering from food insecurity, those without clean water, the unsheltered and unclothed, those lacking medical care, and those who lack the most basic human need, freedom. These were sad conditions in the first century and, after twenty centuries of Christianity, they still apply, even right here in the United States! Now the issue is not that “goats” are openly hostile to the needy. They just don’t see that the needy fellow human being is their responsibility. For two millennia we have been debating the relationship between faith and works, and much of contemporary Christianity has overdosed on Saint Paul in order to justify ignoring the plain teachings of our Saviour. Today’s words put paid to the notion that Christians can “get saved” and drop out. In today’s reading it comes clear that faith must issue in the struggle for justice that involves compassionate action, and that the fate of the world and our own eternal destiny depend on it.
As Saint Matthew’s congregation moves forward with a new vision and new leadership, let us all remember to keep our focus on building the Kingdom of God, a world where God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. That is our defining mission.