Material for Worship on the Feast of Christ the King

Good morning. Today is the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday before Advent, before the beginning of a new year in the life of the Church. It is very appropriate that after the service this morning, the Annual General Meeting of the Church will be held, when we will look back together at the year that has been and look forward to the year to come. Today is also known as Stir-up Sunday, a name which come from the collect set for the day in the Prayer Book which begins ‘Stir up, we beseech thee O Lord the wills of thy faithful people …’ which in years gone by would send housewives all over the country back home from church to start preparing their Christmas cakes and puddings! My prayer this morning is that God would stir in each of our hearts a desire to spend time with Christ and worship Him. Nerys

Today I feel as if I’m saying goodbye to an old friend. Like many of you, reading is one of my favourite pastimes and my habit, when I come across an author whose work I enjoy, is to try to get hold of as many of their books as I can and work my way through them. That way, I feel that I’ll get to know their particular voice and grasp the issues that concern them.

The way our Sunday readings are arranged means that we do something similar with the authors of the four Gospels. As so, today, on the last Sunday of the Church year, we are coming to the end of our time in the company of the author of the first Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew.
After a whole year of listening to this author and engaging with his writing, I feel that I have got to know his voice – although I don’t even know his name for certain, let alone anything much about his background, and who he was writing for. There is no doubt, however, about his intention in writing an account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. All of the Gospels are preoccupied with the same question ‘Who is this man?’ and by implication, ‘Who am I in relation to him?’ But, perhaps because they were originally meant to address the concerns of different groups of early Christians, each Gospel is angled differently. The emphasis in Matthew, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is on Jesus as the Messiah, the promised one, the fulfilment of the dreams and prophecies of the Jewish people. Right from his account of his birth, this author shows Jesus as the Son of God and throughout his Gospel, Jesus is said to cause amazement, not only by his actions, but also by his words. Time and time again, this young man is presented as knowing and understanding more about God than the religious leaders of Israel and he speaks with an authority which surely could only come from God himself.

Our passage today, Matthew 25.31-46, read here by Mary Birch, comes right at the end of a long section which focusses on Jesus’ teaching, set in the courtyard of the temple. Once he finishes speaking to the crowd, he turns to his disciples, saying, ‘The Passover is in two days’ time. That’s when the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’ We need to read this last parable of Jesus in the light of this because here he depicts himself as a king like no other.

Matthew’s Jewish readers would have been familiar with scenes of a heavenly courtroom where God presides in judgement over the people of the world, punishing those nations who were lacking in their support of Israel. Imagine their consternation when they discover that in his version, Jesus puts himself on the throne and depicts himself judging all people according to their compassion towards those who are in need. Even the characters in his story are taken aback by the yardstick according to which they are measured! It is not their beliefs, their faithfulness in attending worship or their financial support of a religious institution that counts but how they respond to the beggar on the street corner when nobody’s looking. Christ’s measuring stick is those actions which arise out of our love of our needy neighbor, a love that is rooted in and inseparable from our love of Him.

What a challenge to those of us who follow in Christ’s footsteps today! Matthew has both groups of people responding by saying ‘we didn’t know we would be judged for that!’ The problem is that none of them had understood the nature of God. Our Epistle for today, Ephesians 1.15-23, read here by David Sawyer, suggests that the early Christians at Ephesus didn’t really know God either. Maybe they saw God as a distant figure, easily pleased by religious behavior, easily pushed into a convenient corner of their lives. Maybe they hadn’t realized that knowledge of God is not intellectual or theoretical but that it grows through a living relationship with Christ – a human figure who identifies himself with all who suffer.

Today as we reflect on the last year in the life of St Mary’s, I wonder to what extent we have followed Christ’s teaching? It is not just doing harm to others that marks out our rejection of God’s ways, it is the goodness we fail to do, the needs we don’t notice or ignore. We as church are members of Christ’s body in the world. Looking out for the needy, the suffering, the neglected, the oppressed in our local community and responding to them with love is our God-given work.

For our time of prayer today, I invite you to reflect on an image introduced to me by my predecessor, Revd Janice Cameron, many years ago. ‘The Christ of the Breadline’ first appeared on the cover of the Catholic Worker Magazine in 1951. The artist is Fritz Eichenberg, a German Quaker who worked closely with the American Catholic author and social activist, Dorothy Day. In it we have Christ standing in line at a soup kitchen, waiting for His turn to be served. This Christ is not the powerful, physically perfect figure of much classical sacred art. He is weak. He’s wrapped in rags. He’s entirely in shadow. Although he is in the middle of the piece, our eyes are not drawn to him but to the details of those in the line with him who can only be seen in his light. In front of Him and behind Him are other raggedy people, hands in their pockets, wrapped up in shawls, anxiously waiting for food. And these figures are still. They all stand, motionless in their deep poverty and hunger with the Lord of the universe in their midst, waiting for our response …

Take some time now to reflect on the image and to consider your response.

Who is Christ standing with in our community today as we return to Lockdown?

What is our prayer for them and for those known to us who are finding life difficult just now?

How can we respond to them with love?

Listen to Moira Langston and follow or sing the words of the hymn of adoration by an anonymous American author.

He is Lord, he is Lord;
he is risen from the dead, and he is Lord;
every knee shall bow, every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord.

He is love, he is love;
he has shown us by his life that he is love;
all his people sing with one voice of joy
that Jesus Christ is love.

He is life, he is life;
he has died to set us free and he is life;
and he calls us all to live evermore
for Jesus Christ is life.

He is King, he is King;
he will draw all nations to him, he is King:
and the time shall be when the world shall sing
that Jesus Christ is King.

You may wish to finish your time of prayer with the Collect for today from the Prayer Book, making it a prayer for yourself and for all of us at St Mary’s:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.