Church of England Diocese of Bath & Wells Easton-in-Gordano

Sunday before Advent, Christ the King

21 Nov 2020, midnight
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Matthew 25:31-end Ephesians 1:15-end

Christ the King

The feast of Christ the King falls on the last Sunday in the Church’s calendar year; Advent Sunday being the beginning. We can see why: Advent heralds the Saviour’s birth, while at the same time keeping an eye out for the Lord’s second coming which is anticipated towards the end of time. ‘Christ the King’, then, looks ahead to the final climax in history, when we are to see Christ seated on the throne. Over the centuries, there have been images made of Jesus in a position of authority, like the Christus Pantocrator, or Almighty or all-powerful. (There’s a Youtube link to explain this image at the end of this text.) Usually placed high up in church buildings which helps to remind us of Christ’s ultimate rule. Whatever else has happened or is happening in our lives and in the world, there will be a moment when justice shall reign, and God is the one who makes it come about.

Justice is a theme that is deeply rooted in faith, and it is linked to Jesus, as the passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians explains: ‘God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 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.’

It is a central theme in our faith that our passionate longing for justice comes from God himself, who is our creator. No matter how well we ourselves try to bring justice about, even at an international level, with the International Court of Justice in The Hague which was instituted just over 100 years ago, God will do justice on a world-wide scale, larger than all of our own systems put together. It is part of the biblical image of the Son of Man.

The way Jesus describes it in his final discourse in Matthew’s gospel, is with another image: that of a scene in which Jesus, vindicated after his suffering, is put in the place of ultimate and fair ruler, who ‘separates the sheep from the goats’. The separation of the sheep and the goats at the end of the day is a picture that is still seen in the Middle East today: the goats have thinner coats than the sheep, and need more shelter, but as they are looking very similar, only their shepherd can tell them apart. The most likely interpretation of this scene is that those who haven’t followed Jesus as Messiah will be subject to an examination about the way they have treated Christians. As before, Jesus is speaking primarily to the religious leaders of the day, reminding them of God’s law for his people and which they had misinterpreted according to an inflated self-esteem and disrespect for others, as Jesus has pointed out several times.

What an encouragement this message would have been for those followers of Jesus who in the course of time were going to be abused, tortured and even killed for their faith. The hope of salvation and future justice, coming from Jesus’ own lips, would have been like balm for their souls.

We also, in our own present day situation, may be encouraged, knowing that there will be a final day in which those who suffer for the sake of righteousness will be vindicated and share in the glory of Christ. In the meantime, we are encouraged by his kingship, as God’s kingdom is both here and not yet; it is present and it’s on its way.

As we are approaching the end of a year, we are also looking forward to a new beginning. Thinking of Jesus, whose birth was humble, yet changed the world, let us think of that carol: ‘Angels, from the reams of glory’, which has a final verse that sums up our longing for peace and justice in the truth of God’s love:

Saints before the altar bending,

Watching long in hope and fear,

Suddenly the Lord, descending,

In His temple shall appear.

So, Come and worship, Christ, the new-born and everlasting King.