Christ The King Year A
20 November 2011
Rev Les Ruhrmund
We’ve come to the end of another liturgical year and today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King; Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Universal King. The Resurrection set up a situation that affected the whole of humankind for all time. There is no place or situation that is outside Christ because there is no place or situation that is outside grace and the Holy Spirit. God’s grace is offered to all and since all grace comes from (and leads to) Christ, Christ is present to all; even to those who do not know and acknowledge him. Christ is the Universal King.
The readings for this glorious celebration of Christ the King are appropriately and particularly beautiful.
Ezekiel in the first reading, written about 550 years before Jesus was born, uses the much loved image of God as the good shepherd tending the flock, leading them to rest in good pastures where the lost will be sought after and those who stray brought back, where the injured will be bandaged and the sick restored to health. And being a good shepherd he separates the sheep from the goats. In ancient times sheep symbolised honour, virility and strength because they could withstand the cold of winter and they suffered in silence. Goats on the other hand are physically vulnerable to inclement weather and were considered lascivious animals because the males mated indiscriminately. Goats came to symbolise shame and shameful behaviour.
In the gospel reading, Jesus also uses this image of God as shepherd separating the sheep from the goats as he describes the final judgement at the end of time. In Matthews’s gospel this passage comes at the end of Jesus’ time on earth. In the very next verse Jesus says “You know that in two days time it will be Passover, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” introducing Matthew’s telling of the Passion.
The last few weeks have been a trying time for many of our parishioners writing exams. Many of them I’m sure would have been happy to sacrifice much to have had a preview of the exam questions so they could better prepare. Today’s gospel gives each of us a privileged preview of the final exam we will encounter after we have died and are assembled before God where we will be judged to be worthy either of eternal light or eternal darkness. If we fail the exam we have only ourselves to blame.
I imagine there will be many surprises when the final results become known. In the gospel reading even those who Jesus judged to be virtuous seemed to be surprised by their selection. I think it’s fair to say that the majority of us are sinful people and that if saintliness is the only criterion for eternal life then few of us will qualify. Jesus says something quite different. He says we will be excluded from heaven not because of the sinful things that we have done but because of the good things that we have not done. Living a squeaky clean life that follows all the laws of church and state is not enough to pass the exam.
Jesus says that the sole criterion for citizenship of heaven is love.
Everything we do in our lives and relationships – work, play, prayer and worship – must be directed by and towards love. We are created in love, to love and to be loved. Doctrine, prayer and liturgy in themselves are of little value if they do not inspire and motivate us to love.
The opportunities to express and experience love are all around us in simple acts of kindness.
We cannot touch and know Jesus as the disciples did but we meet Jesus every day in others. Jesus says we will find him very specifically in those who are suffering. In meeting and caring for those who suffer we meet and are graced by Christ. Wherever there is suffering, there is Christ. Wherever there is suffering, we can be Christ.
I don’t think we have to take the examples of suffering that Jesus uses as absolute or literal. If we use the examples as our guide we will find suffering close at hand.
Jesus refers to those who are hungry. Some of us are able to assist those who are hungry for food through charity or employment. But many more of us can bring comfort to those who hunger for understanding, companionship, acceptance and respect.
Thirst can mean more than a desire for something to drink. For some thirst may be a craving for affection or friendship to bring some life into the desert of their loneliness.
Jesus talks about welcoming strangers. Strangers are not only those whom we have never met before. Do we have friends or family members that we treat as strangers because we can’t find it within ourselves to love them just as they are? If that’s true, we’ll fail this question.
And then the question of clothing the naked. Do not most of us have cloths in our wardrobes that we never wear but which would bring much comfort to others who have very much less? Imagine how many people we could bless, mostly strangers, if we each went through our wardrobes this week and donated all our excess clothing to charity. We should be able to score bonus points on this question.
Jesus talks about visiting the sick and those in prison. This would include people who suffer from mental illnesses and depression, anxiety, fear; also those imprisoned by addictions and poor self-image. It includes those who are feeling isolated from God and to whom we can show the face of Jesus through our love, kindness and understanding.
We find Christ when we go looking for him.
We know the questions that will be asked of us in our final exam and we have been given the rest of our lives in which to prepare. It is only the date of the examination is unknown.
Deacon Les 19 November 2011
A thought for the new liturgical year:
Next weekend we start a new Church year with the first Sunday of Advent. The liturgical calendar is one of the treasures of our religious tradition and one that we should carefully and judiciously protect and observe both in our daily lives and in the Mass. The different seasons through the year celebrate the full mystery and miracle of our Christian faith; the life of Jesus as Christ and Jesus the man. As we remember each year the cycle of Jesus’ Nativity, Passion and Death, Resurrection, Pentecost with the birth and growth of the Church, we are renewed and encouraged on our pilgrim journey. If we disregard the seasons, the feasts and the solemnities of the liturgical year in our daily lives and in the Mass, then every day and every Sunday becomes the same and we risk losing both the intrinsic beauty and value of our faith tradition and the perpetual stirring of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.