The Church of the Saviour
The Feast of Christ The King
November 26, 2017
The Reverend George C. Wong
“The King of Hearts”
The soaring cathedral, finely tailored robes and gowns, a full choir accompanied by exquisite brass and stately pipe organ and the crown and scepter. The pomp and circumstance of a royal procession grab my eye and my imagination.
Like me, many on this side of the pond are also drawn to the splendor of official royal proceedings. At the same time, we remain suspicious of royal trappings, so our national ceremonial life reflects a much simpler and less exalted way of installing our leaders. Our presidential inauguration ceremonies are intentionally drab by comparison, presided over by participants dressed in black suits and a justice in black robes. Maybe because we lack public rituals filled with pomp and circumstance or maybe because the royal festivities are almost fairy tale like, most Americans who normally don’t care follow international goings on cannot resist the dignity and majesty of royal pageantry—especially when it comes to a royal wedding or coronation of the British monarch.
Many of you may know that the Church of England is the state church of England and plays an integral role in the coronation ceremony of a British monarch. As Episcopalians, we would find much familiar in the coronation service which is held in Westminster Abbey with the Archbishop of Canterbury presiding. The words of the last coronation which was the service for Queen Elizabeth resembled something we would hear during one of our own ordination or installment services.
The Archbishop of Canterbury: Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Commonwealth according to their respective laws and customs?
The Queen: I solemnly promise so to do.
The Archbishop of Canterbury: Will you to the utmost of your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgments?
The Queen: "I will."
The Archbishop of Canterbury: Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel?
The questions posed by the Archbishop ask the monarch to be enthroned to affirm that he or she will govern with mercy and rule with the gospel in mind. The words express the hope that monarch will govern in a wise and benevolent manner-- in a Godly way.
Though the role of the British monarch is largely ceremonial, the coronation ceremony remains important as a way to enthrone Britain’s monarch with great pomp and circumstance, while also asking the monarch to live up to the highest of secular and religious values.
Historically, royals in Great Britain and in many countries have not always acted in ways which reflect the best of religious and secular values. Coronations have more often initiated the reign of one whose power is absolute and unchecked. Subjects have often found their fates hanging on the whim of the King or Queen. Kings and Queens have not always been leaders who care for and protect their subjects.
If royalty has so often fallen short of expectations and hopes, why do we call this day the feast of “Christ the King”? A helpful hint comes from the complete title of the feast day, which is “Christ the King of the Universe.” This suggests that we need to think bigger. This King is the ruler of all space and time, not of one kingdom or even an earthly empire. Even the very best and most caring of human kings do not fully capture the reign of Jesus.
In today’s readings, we are offered a more expansive and dynamic vision of the Christ the King.
First, the reading from Ezekiel presents us with the image of the King as a shepherd. The people of the ancient near east frequently spoke of a type of shepherd King who would not stay safely on the throne in comfort, apart from his flock. Instead, the Shepherd King goes out into the world. When any of the flock is lost, the King is not afraid to search for his them. He brings them home, he feeds them, he binds up the injured and nurtures the weak. Concerned about justice for those who are vulnerable, the king will punish the fat and the strong who have taken advantage of others. The Shepherd King knows, cares for and protects each of his flock even when that puts the King in danger, even to the point of risking his own life for his flock.
Today’s gospel reading from Matthew Chapter 25 is a perfect counterpart to the OT reading extending the beautiful imagery of the Shepherd King in Ezekiel.
First, we read that Jesus will come again in glory. Jesus will sit with all the angels of heaven around him while he sits on his throne. At first glance, the setting described reminds us of the glorious setting of coronation service.
But, then the gospel text shifts away from Jesus’ glorious kingship turning towards the pastoral image of Jesus. As the Shepherd King, Jesus is not focused on the palace or throne, but on the well-being of the members of his flock. Jesus has a particular concern for certain members of the flock. They are: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.
Jesus invites us to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, the take care of the sick and to visit the imprisoned.
In the fullness of time, Jesus on will sit on the throne and ask us to examine our hearts for times when we helped the most vulnerable among us, the fellow members of the flock, our brothers and sisters in Christ. The loving Jesus will ask us how we have loved in His name.
Jesus links his reign in heaven to the very least of these. This is a big jump for us to make because the Christ the King of Glory is telling us that his most prized subjects are certainly each of us, but especially, the least of among us. The message is simple, but hard to follow because we resist those Jesus directs us towards. If you are like me, these are the people we scurry past, or, as a society, we put away out of sight. If you are like me, on most days, I am just so focused on getting the next thing on my “to do” list that it is sometimes easy to avoid the faces of those in need around me.
But Jesus knows this and reminds us that we will find his glory in the faces:
Of those in soup kitchens.
Of those pushing shopping carts on the streets
Of those in homeless shelters.
Of those in drug rehab meetings.
Of those in nursing homes and hospice care.
Of those who have lost hope and are suffer from depression
Of those in maximum security prisons.
As the new church year starts, we will begin it by waiting in the season of Advent for the birth of the infant in whom love shines completely. Even if Black Friday alerts and ubiquitous ads tell us this is the time to cast our eyes upon irresistible, bright shiny bargains, the Advent season is an ideal time to look inward at our lives. It is an ideal time to quietly ask ourselves where we have found the face of Christ? And, the good news is that Jesus told us exactly where to look. Christ is all around us, and if we look, we will see in each other the unexcelled Glory of God.