Summary: A reflection on the Kingship of Christ and what this means for our lives in a contemporary world.
CHRIST OUR KING!
Today is a wonderful day in the Liturgical Calendar of the Church, an opportunity for a very deliberate focus on Christ and the fact that he is our King. Unfortunately it is also one of those Sundays that most modern churches have neglected, thinking it’s too traditional and ceremonial, many churches have opted to make this just a regular Sunday on which we come to church, get our spiritual fix and move on to the new week. But if we pay careful attention to the season we’re in, if we pause for a moment and recognize that next week we begin our advent celebrations and reflections, we will realize that the old tradition of this Sunday is actually wonderfully appropriate and can be tremendously meaningful.
So what is today then, you might be asking? ... Well, according to the Church’s calendar today is known as Christ the King Sunday. Always observed on the last Sunday before Advent begins, it was set aside in ancient times as a day on which the Church should reflect on the fact that Jesus Christ is her King, our King, and that it is the birth of the eternal King that we celebrate during Advent, and that it is for Jesus as returning King that we will wait during advent.
But, in all honesty, I must confess that I have some sympathy for why the church in many parts of the world chooses not to observe today as a particular day of celebration (I don’t think that it’s ok, but I can understand why); because the fact is that most of us today are quite unfamiliar with the image of a King. We don’t know what it’s like to be ruled by, to submit to, and to depend on the gracious provision of a King, so the image of Christ as King can be quite a foreign concept to us.
It’s like the story a certain aunt once told about her nephew: “Each Christmas our church presents a concert featuring a live nativity scene. My five year-old nephew was up in the balcony on one occasion, not paying much attention. As the Wise men began marching down the centre aisle toward the manger, his father leaned over to him and whispered, ‘Curtis, look! You’re missing it! Here comes the king!’ Curtis jumped up, looked over the balcony and asked, ‘is that Elvis?!’”
The image of Jesus Christ as a King is difficult for us to imagine, so for the sake of being relevant and wanting not to confuse anyone we avoid such reflections altogether. Perhaps for the sake of relevance we do so, but it is done at the expense of meaningful worship, at the cost of learning more about who Jesus is, and it results in a loss of appreciation for the beauty of the Church’s worship. And, as foreign as the image might be, today is the perfect opportunity worship Jesus Christ as our King, to pray to him as our King and to reflect through the readings and sermon on him as our King.
This is Christ the King Sunday and today we will focus on that then... We will read our passage and reflect on that passage with this image of Christ as our King firmly in mind.
Now it is true that some have described this particular parable as one of the more terrifying stories Jesus ever told; that the truths contained in it are by no means comfortable or easy to bear is obvious; and that this parable falls especially harshly upon the ears of us modern readers – because we live in a world of inclusivity and almost dangerous tolerance and we find it difficult to deal with those texts in which Jesus quite clearly says that some will be excluded.
In light of this it is important for me to say right at the outset that this morning our intention is not to cast judgement upon who might and who might not be included – we will not try to determine who are sheep and who are goats – this is a task reserved for Christ our King and we have no place usurping him in it. We must deal honestly with the text and admit that, despite our modern tendency to want to include everyone, Jesus obviously teaches here that there will be some who are lost.
Nevertheless, we make a grave mistake if we get stuck on this point and imagine that this is all the text says... As we so often do... Most of us end up reading this text blinded by our own position and desire, we all want to be considered sheep and so we become pre-occupied with who the sheep are and who the goats are. But the fact is that this text is more about the King than the sheep and the goats! Every text in Scripture is more about Jesus than it is about us; the text tells us about Jesus primarily and only secondarily or by implication, about us. Friends, I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating at this point too, because this parable especially is almost always in danger of being reduced to what it says about humanity, when, in fact, our primary concern should be to reflect on what this parable teaches about Jesus Christ – and him as our King – this is, after all, Christ the King Sunday!