Reign of Christ

November 22 2020

I am going to be upfront and say that normally I avoid preaching Reign of Christ
Sunday- which is what this Sunday is called in our church calendar. In the past, this is a
weekend I have tried to take off as holidays, using the excuse that it will help me feel
rested for Advent but in reality, it is simply because I don’t like preaching on this Sunday. I
equally try to avoid using the synonym for this Sunday, Christ the King Sunday. I think
this is for two reasons. One, my feminist side baulks at all the masculine language around
this Sunday- even in our opening prayer I struggled with the language of kings to describe
idolatry- but I wanted to give it a try. Two, I often find the language around King and
Kingdom a bit archaic. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I might think of myself as a
monarchist in terms of my Canadian identity, but for me that language often brings up
ideas of feudalism, or Game of Thrones kind of leadership. When I think of Christ as
King, I have trouble imaging the incarnation of God, who hung on a cross, also having a
bejewelled crown on his head. So, this is where I am coming from when I think of Reign
of Christ Sunday. I just don’t like it…conversely however, perhaps ironically, the passage
this morning is one of my favourites. In fact, this passage in Matthew is likely why I have
remained in the church. As a teenager there was very little in the Bible that spoke to me
but this passage drove me to want to lead- because this is what the Christian community
should look like. So, this morning I am caught in this strange dichotomy of both wanting
to avoid and wanting to delve in.

To my relief, I discovered that Reign of Christ Sunday is actually a fairly new
concept within the church. It has only been in existence since 1925- so I could argue that
seeing as it is not part of the early church traditions I could avoid it all together. However,
I was curious why in 1925 a new day was declared in the church calendar. It was just after
the First World War- a war that was supposed to end all wars and a war that essentially
changed warfare forever. Pope Pius XI (11) was very concerned about the state of the
world. He wrote in his encyclical that established the feast day that he was worried that
“the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these
had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and…that as long as individuals and
states refused to submit to the rule of our Saviour, there would be no really hopeful
prospect of a lasting peace among nations.” It was initially an effort to acknowledge that the power and order of God transcends political authority. Acknowledging the reign of
Christ is supposed to be an act of protest and responding to injustices. Unfortunately, if
you know your Roman Catholic and 20th century history, you know that Pope Pius XII
(12) the following Pope didn’t quite get it as he signed agreements with both Mussolini and
Hitler. But admittedly there is something prophetic in Pope Pius XI’s edict and concern.
Having just recovered from elections in our province and the United States, religion and
politics have become rather uncomfortably murky but instead of our faith dictating our
response to justice it is being used as a weapon- and I’m definitely not comfortable with
Thankfully the Gospel passage does- what it did for me so many years ago- draws
me back into the point of all of this. In this judgment of the nations, Christ- who is indeed
portrayed as King sitting upon his throne- calls the nations together but instead of this
being about the ego of the ruler or the loyalty to king and country of the nations this
judgment is entirely based on our love for neighbour. In Matthew this is the final parable
and conversation that Jesus will have with his followers. Matthew also tends to lean heavy
of this idea of Jesus as King. From the story of the Magi to the Pilate’s questions the focus has been on Jesus as King of the Jews. So it should come as no surprise that this parable-
which only appears in Matthew- has Jesus sitting upon a throne.

Those that are righteous are placed on the right and Jesus says, “inherit the
kingdom prepared for you for the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave
me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you
welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.” Later Jesus will turn to those on his left and say that
they are accursed because when he was all those things they did not respond with loving
kindness. What I find so striking is that both sides, the righteous and the accursed both ask
Jesus, “When was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in
prison?” Those on the left make it sound like an excuse- if we’d known it was you we
would have helped.

Church leader Dirk Lange points out. “When the question is asked by those on the
right, the question stems from what might be called a holy ignorance. These were people
who had entered the joy of their master without even knowing it. Such participation is not
self-evident. The joy they knew was not complete; it was mixed with suffering, danger,
risk, tribulations and most likely many disappointments. And yet, it was joy. They acted
out of mercy. They went the way of the cross and now find themselves at the right hand of
the Son of Man…On the contrary, those on the left did not know mercy or joy…They
complicated every situation allowing their own judgment as to whom they had to serve deafen them to the cry of those who were calling out in need.”

What has always drawn me to this passage is that no where does it say that one
must be ‘saved’ or even baptized, it certainly does not say that one must be a Presbyterian
or a Roman Catholic…in fact it doesn’t even say one must be a Christian, yet strangely
enough it was this passage that kept me in the church, because I wanted to follow someone
who didn’t put stipulations on my loyalty or doctrine. I wanted to follow someone who
would always push me to think beyond myself. When Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, just
as you did it to one of the least of these you, who are members of my family, you did it to
me.” This means we must envision our “King” as any of those who are victims of the
opiod crisis or struggling with secure housing or patronizing the Sonshine lunch club. The
image of Jesus wearing some gaudy crown doesn’t work for me and it is because of this

As much as I love this parable it does make me squirm because it reminds me
how many times I have failed to see Christ in least of these. Yet, if I think of Dirk Lange’s
words I am drawn back to this understanding of joyful living. Joyful living is not about
blissful ignorance nor is it even about moral behaviour, it is about being willing to go to
unexpected places- to go not to the throne but the cross. It takes disciples to the place of
God’s suffering in the world.

This is the last Sunday in our Church year. Next week we begin a new year with
Advent- which is full of apocalyptic readings- preparing us not only for the story of
Christmas and the incarnation, but for Christ’s arrival in our world- not as a typical king
but as those who are on the margins, who are suffering, who are voiceless, who are
isolated, who are vulnerable, who need to be housed, fed, quenched, welcomed, clothed,
cared for, and visited. That’s the king we serve, that’s the Christ that reigns for and in us
and that’s the king we must thrust into our lives because that is how we will find and create
hope, peace, joy and love in our world. Amen