Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican
Sunday, 20 November 2011
The Kingship of Christ, the Sunday before Advent
Kenure Church, Rush Co Dublin
9.30 a.m., The Eucharist (Holy Communion).
Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1: 15-23; Matthew 25: 31-46.
May I speak to you in the name + of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
I must be getting older, because it seems each year I moan earlier and earlier that Christmas is coming earlier and earlier … long Advent has begun.
Waiting for Christ, anticipating Christ, is at the heart of Advent, which begins next Sunday.
We have made Christmas a far-too comfortable story, with images of a sweet baby Jesus, surrounded by adoring, cute little animals and being visited by benign kings. In reality, though, Christmas is never a comfortable story in the Gospels.
Christmas is a story about poverty and about people who are homeless and rejected and who find no place to stay.
It is a messy story about a now-born child surrounded by the filth of animals and the dirt of squalor.
It is a story of shepherds involved in dangerous work, staying out all night in the winter cold, watching for wolves and sheep stealers.
It is a story of political deceit and corruption that lead to a cruel dictator stooping to murder, the murder of innocent children, to secure his grip on power.
Those images do not sell Christmas Cards or help to get the boss drunk under the mistletoe at the office party.
That is why in the weeks before Advent the Gospel readings remind us of what the coming of Christ into the world means, what the Kingdom of God is like, how we should prepare for the coming of Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Our Gospel reading tells of Christ coming in glory as the Son of Man (verse 31), as the king (verses 34 and 40), and as Lord (verses 37 and 44).
It is so stark and challenging it forces us to ask what the coming of Christ, the second coming, will be like, and what Christ has to say to us about the way we live and the world we live in today.
A scene of Christ in Majesty at the Last Judgment in a fresco in the Orthodox Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)
The story opens with Christ coming again in glory, sitting on his throne of glory (verse 31), and the nations gathered before him (verse 32). We see not isolated individuals are gathered before the throne of Christ, but the nations – all the nations – assembled and being asked these searching questions.
These questions challenge us to ask whether we have taken on board the values of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 3-11; Luke 6: 20-31), and whether we truly accept the values Christ proclaimed at the start of his ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4: 16-19).
The questions are put not just to us as individuals but to the nations, all the nations (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, pánta to ethne), each and every one of them.
And that is where Christ comes into the world, both at Christmas and at the second coming, with the Kingdom of God. At his birth, the old man in the Temple, Simeon, welcomes him as “a light for revelation to the nations” (φῶς εἰς ἀποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν, phos eis apokálypsin ethnon) (Luke 2: 32).
Which nations on earth, at this very moment, would like to be judged by how enlightened they are; to be compared with the Kingdom of God when it comes to how they treat and look after those the enthroned Christ identifies with: those who are hungry; those who are thirsty; those who are strangers and find no welcome; those who are naked, bare of anything to call their own, or whose naked bodies are exploited for profit and pleasure; those who are sick and left waiting on hospital trolleys or on endless lists for health care they cannot afford; those imprisoned because they speak out, or because they are from the wrong political or ethnic group, or because they do not have the right papers when they arrive as refugees or asylum seekers?
Our Gospel reading makes a direct connection with the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. This Gospel reading challenges us in a way that is uncomfortable, but with things that must stay on our agenda as Christians and on the agenda of the Church and the agendas of the nations.
Christ in Majesty ... John Piper’s window in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield
Christ is coming again as a king who shows a model of kingship that emphasises what true majesty and graciousness should be – giving priority in the kingdom to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner (verses 35-36).
And as we prepare for Christmas, we can look forward to seeing the Christ child in the crib and singing about him in the carols. But we can also look forward to seeing him in glory.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
Keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Post Communion Prayer:
Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that plenteously bearing the fruit of good works
they may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached on 20 November 2011.
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