This Sunday is known as Christ the King Sunday – it’s the last Sunday of the Christian calendar, right before Advent begins the new liturgical year. What better way to end the year than to look ahead to what will bring an end to the current age? Let’s start with the modern Collect for the Day (from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer):
Almighty and everlasting God,
whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son,
the King of kings and Lord of lords:
Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin,
may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule;
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
As we consider this holiday, let’s briefly reflect upon this year’s readings for this Sunday.
It’s because of passages like this that the Jews in Jesus’ day were expecting a Messiah who would drive the Gentiles out of Judea and liberate God’s people from oppression. The image of God judging “between one sheep and another,” and destroying “the fat and the strong,” really do sound like a victory. And they are a victory, but when Jesus arrived he revealed that the true struggle was against a different enemy altogether: the Gentiles weren’t the true enemies of Israel, for Israel’s sins were just as great as the rest of the world. No, Jesus came to claim victory over sin itself!
Picking up from that victory that Jesus won on the cross, Paul writes here about how, in the course of his thanks-giving for the Christians in Ephesus, he prays that they will grow to better understand their “glorious inheritance in the saints.” This takes the previous reading’s picture to another level. Ezekiel described a peaceful vision of God’s people living under the perfect shepherd, the Messiah from King David’s line, but Paul describes a sharing of power. Not only do we have the Messiah as our shepherd-king, but the Holy Spirit also shares His power with us, so when all things are placed “under Christ’s feet,” they’re placed under our feet too, because we are “his body!”
Jesus revealed in his teaching that some of that “judging between sheep” business has yet to be carried out. Despite the good news Paul taught, that we can even now begin to share in Christ’s rule over the cosmos, the final judgment of the earth has yet to take place. So rather than sitting around and waiting for the return of Christ and the inauguration of the eternal kingdom on earth, we are here instructed to work. As Ezekiel described the shepherd who will seek out his sheep and rescue them, we too are to live out God’s mercy. After all, if we are indeed part of Christ’s “body,” as Paul often described it, then it is encumbent upon us to do what Christ did. In this passage Jesus describes some particular examples: giving food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothes to the naked, and company to the prisoners. A holistic ministry is implied: we are to look out for people’s physical needs (literal food and drink), emotional-social needs (spending time with those in need), and spiritual needs (Christ’s bread of life, the Spirit’s living water).
So the image of Jesus as our King is an encouraging promise (as Ezekiel shows us), a glorious reality (as Paul shows us), and call to action (as Jesus shows us). Each of these angles come together in a hybrid-traditional version of the Collect of the Day:
Almighty and everlasting God,
who restores all things in your Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords;
Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people,
so that we may abundantly produce the fruit of good works
and be abundantly rewarded in your eternal kingdom;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.