Christ The King Sunday Ezekiel 34:11-20, Psalm 95, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Matthew 25:31-46
Shortly before he is betrayed, abandoned, despised, stripped, scourged, and nailed to a cross; Jesus tells his disciples that when the Son of Man comes in glory he will separate people one from another. He will look to the deeds of each one and judge whether they will enjoy eternal life, or suffer everlasting condemnation.
This passage is often erroneously called the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, because it follows two elaborate parables which speak of the same thing: A time to come when a judgement is made between people, and some will be welcomed to the wedding feast, invited into the joy of the Master, and some will be left in the dark.
“The Kingdom of heaven will be LIKE ten virgins who look their lamps and went to meet the Bridegroom…”
“It will be LIKE a man going on a journey, who called his servants…”
But in this third discourse this language of analogy disappears entirely. Jesus becomes all the more urgent. There is no more time for mincing words. His disciples have to know, and they have to know now, that there will be a reckoning, a settling of accounts, when those who have opposed the rule and reign of God’s Christ will be excluded from the future he has prepared, the restoration of all things.
“WHEN the Son of Man comes in his Glory…” he announces.
This isn’t a story. We don’t get to sit and dissect it in Bible study or chew it over with learned friends.
The day of judgement is coming, and people from every nation will be brought into the everlasting kingdom, or sent away to everlasting punishment.
And the measure and scale the Son of Man will use to weigh the life of each one of us is this:
When he was hungry, did you feed him?
When he was thirsty, did you give him drink?
When he was a stranger, did you welcome him?
When he was naked, did you clothe him?
When he was sick, did you go to him?
When he was in prison, did you visit him?
And that is the end of Jesus teaching ministry. The bottom line. Famous last words.
Who will stand in this day of judgement? Who can shoulder such a burden? When Jesus Christ returns to establish his Kingdom, will any of us make it through the gate?
We may scan the page again, perhaps there is some response. Do the Disciples ask for a clarification? Is this a part of some dialogue? No. Matthew records no reply. He immediately moves on to the story of the Passion.
When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
Crucified? I thought you just said the Son of Man was coming in glory? There is no glory in being executed.
The Son of Man sits at the Passover and he feeds his disciples bread. He offers them to drink from his cup.
A crowd of strangers come out to meet him, but they bind him and take him away.
He is stripped naked and clothed with a crown of thorns
In his suffering, as he hangs upon the cross his life leaving him, those who come by come only to mock him
And when his body is placed in the prison of the Sepulcher, it is only the roman guards who stand watch.
He fed the hungry, and poured out the drink of eternal life.
He was rejected, not welcomed.
He was clothed in shame.
In his suffering, no one relieved him.
And in the tomb none came to visit.
In this the moment where Jesus ascends his throne, all the world sees only a criminal recieving the just reward in a tortured death.
That day of judgement that Jesus spoke of comes and goes, and by the measure laid out, the human race fails to balance the scale of God’s justice.
But this is not the end of the story.
On the third day two women go to the grave and are met by an angel standing by the opened tomb. There is no body inside to anoint.
Jesus has risen from the dead, just as he said he would.
God sent his Son into the world not only to rule and reign, not only to dethone evil and cast out the devil, not only to announce a new way to live, but he sent his Son to die the death we deserve and to rise to life again, defeating death forever.
And those of us who through baptism have passed from death to life, are a part of the new humanity inaugurated by this resurrection.
St. Paul tells us that in Adam, in the old humanity, all die. In Adam we are unmoved by the plight of the suffering of the Messiah. We do not see God’s anointed when we look at the Man on the Tree, much less when we see our neighbors. Jesus’ death is simply the most consistent outcome of a spiritually dead human race being confronted with the God who made them. We are a rebel people, after all, and we have wandered our own way. And as such we will always reject the gracious rule and reign of God in Christ.
But thanks be to God, he has not abandoned us to the fate of our own making. Jesus rose again from the dead to set about the ordering all things under his gracious rule. His kingdom is not so fragile as to depend on us, but rather it is we who depend on Him. He makes us alive, he gives to us a new heart and a new mind. He brings our wayward and warring wills to order. He pours out the unearned gift of the Holy Spirit, making us frail bodies destined for the dirt, to be the dwelling place of God.
Jesus began his teaching ministry with “Blessed are the poor in Spirit” and he ended it condeming the heartless and under that sentence none will be guiltless. But we have witnessed the resurrection of the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the first fruit of the new creation, and in that new creation all that Christ has taught, the future he tells us about, the life he wants to give us, in that safe dwelling place of peace and provision, suddenly becomes possible. If Christ could not be defeated by death, in Christ we can walk in that strange and narrow path he has taught us, the winidng and slow road into the Kingdom of God.
If Christ had not been raised the sentence would already have been carried out, and the human race would be condemned forever. But Jesus rose from the dead, and makes himself available to us that we may feed on him and drink from him. He is alive, and he will lead us and make us ever more to find our way in his Way, to teach us to love those things which our old nature despised, to become the people our fear of death prevented.
Today Jesus confronts us with a stark warning.
But today Jesus also meets us with a gracious invitation.
We may have despised our rightful Lord and King on the day of his Passion, but the same Jesus who has promised to meet us in Bread and Wine here promises another place he may be found.
On the day of judgement the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
His Passion was one day, way back when. But it is also every moment of every day. For when is it not the case that someone is hungry, or thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and abandoned? To the heart renewed by the Holy Spirit, this anouncement of the day of judgement is not something to fear. Rather it is our hope.
We may think on our old self, and hate what we were. And we may still find the old self tucked away in places to difficult for us to reach. And we may in the secret parts of our heart despise Christ and refuse to serve him. But here Jesus has given us a clear way to begin to untangle ourselves.
Is someone hungry? Feed them.
Are they thirsty? Give them a drink.
A stranger? Welcome them.
Naked? Clothe them.
Sick? Go to them.
In prison? Visit.
How many times do we have to do it, before it’ll be enough?
Well, I don’t see a minimum, do you? Unless your Bible is the fine print edition, Jesus nowhere says there is some kind of minimium participation clause. He has not made himself hard to find, and the implicaiton here is that there are even now those finding Christ who have no idea they are doing so.
“When did we see you hungry” they may say on that day of judgement.
But we who have confessed the faith are even more blessed, because we know the one we serve, and it is our joy to see Jesus even in the most distressing garb of those who live out his Passion every day. But this is precisely why Jesus rose again from the dead, so that this new sight would be ours so that all that he taught might be more than a pleasent thought, but become a real Kingdom breaking forth in the midst of us even now.
And some of us can see this fruit for ourselves. Every month we feed many individuals and families by making lunches to distribute through the Light House.
Jesus says that he is that hungry person we are feeding.
And Lord willing soon we can get back to our bingo nights at the homeless shelter.
Jesus says that it is he we are welcoming into our lives and visiting.
The reign of Christ has begun amongst us, and as we look forward we are not left without hope or guidance. Jesus who was once despised and rejected, has made himself available to us in all who suffer and are in need. May it be our joy especially this Advent to meet him there.
And indeed we may meet others on the way who haven’t yet heard the Gospel, but are on their way to meet Jesus in the form of a neighbor in need.
Sadly this year has meant that loving Christ in the challening garb of those who are suffering has become drastically different. We cannot go to many of those meeting places for fear of spreading coronavirus.
But one very immediately practical way Jesus is inviting us to meet him this Advent is by serving those who are in the bondage of medical debt.
In partnership with other local churches, we are seeking to buy and forgive $4.5 million of medical debt in the state of Maryland, which will liberate hundreds and hundreds of people from the burden of financial insecurity and from being harassed by debt collectors. More details about this initiative will be forthcoming.
But even at a time when we cannot meet as many people, Jesus remains available to us in the guise of those who suffer.
The day of judgement is not far off. And the scales of God’s justice are not tipped against us. For Christ is present to us at all times, and serving him is as simple as welcoming a stranger.
Let us then think on the coming of Christ’s rule not with fear, but with joy, when we will meet face to face all those from many nations who have served Christ and hear with them Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.