Sunday, 22 November 2020

‘Truly I tell you, just as you
did it to one of the least
of these … you did it to me’

‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’ … Christ the King depicted in a stained-glass window in a church in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 22 November 2020

The Sunday before Advent, the Kingship of Christ

(Mission Sunday)

The Readings: Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1: 15-23; and Matthew 25: 31-46.

Christ the King … a stained-glass window in Mount Melleray Abbey, Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Many of us may remember this Sunday from our childhood as ‘Stir-up Sunday.’ It was a play on words: the traditional collect in the Book of Common Prayer on this Sunday, the last Sunday in the Church Year, invited us to pray:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may of thee be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


This was, of course, the time of the year that mothers and families began to stir-up the mixture for Christmas cakes and puddings, ‘stirring up’ the mixture that played on those words about ‘the fruit’ as they went about their good works.

After the mixture was poured out into baking trays, how we begged our mothers or grannies to lick the big yellow mixing bowl and the wooden spoons!

The year was coming to a close, the evenings were getting darker, and now we shared the sweet taste of the promises of Christmas, a child’s way of preparing for the coming of Christ and new beginnings.

This Sunday before Advent, however, invites us to think about the coming Christ as Christ the King.

The concept of Christ as King may be difficult for many people in a modern, democratic European society, particularly in an Ireland where we have been blessed with the bravery and charisma of not one but three successive elected Presidents as heads of state.

The mere mention of kingship and monarchy may evoke images of the extravagance of Versailles, the anachronism of Ruritarian-like pretenders, or inherited privilege in a class-ridden society.

However, since 1925, the celebration of Christ the King or the Kingship of Christ has been part of the calendar of the wider Western Church. It was first suggested by Pope Pius XI in an encyclical (Quas Primas), when he castigated secularism in Europe and declared the secular powers ought to recognise Christ as King and that the Church needed to recapture this teaching.

At the time, the entire idea of kingship was quickly losing credibility in western societies, not so much to democracy but to the rise of fascism: Mussolini was in power in Italy since 1922, and a wave of fascism was about to sweep across central Europe.

The concept of Christ the King challenged the idea that presidents and dictators could hold power based on prejudice and populism, without any promise of justice or attention to the needs of the oppressed, and the sufferings of the impoverished, the marginalised and minorities.

A king – no matter how absurd and anomalous that concept seems to us today – was supposed to exercise or hold on to power not for himself or for his own enrichment and pleasure, but to embrace, embody, express, the needs of all the people, especially those in danger of being exploited or oppressed.

That fading – today, almost irrelevant – concept of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ was not for the benefit of the monarch, but to save the people.

And it is in sharp contrast to the troubling images today of a president who refuses, in the face of the democratic choice of the people, to leave office or to prepare to hand over to his elected successor.

True majesty is reflected in being truly gracious. In a democracy, it should always be about the people – especially those who are in danger of being counted out – and never about the office-holder.

The values of the Kingdom of God can never give way to the cat-calls and the rabble-rousing of populist protesters or presidents who think they are more valuable than their people.

The Sunday before Advent is a challenge to think not only about Christ’s coming, at his second coming, and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

In this diocese, this Sunday is also marked as Mission Sunday.

I spent a good part of last week at a two-day meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). It was a ‘virtual’ meeting, hosted on Zoom, and we discussed how the values of the Church in mission can be signs or foretastes of the coming Kingdom of God. We talked about empowering women, caring for the sick, challenging racism, acting on climate change … and many other important challenges.

Mission Sunday is an opportunity to draw breath and think of what the Kingdom of God might be like, how the Church reflects that, and how we should be calling into the kingdom those who are in danger of being marginalised and oppressed

This year, for Mission Sunday, the Diocesan Mission Council has decided to support the work of two projects whose work has become even more crucial – life-saving – during the pandemic for people in danger of being counted out.

Jigsaw is the National Centre for Youth Mental Health, providing vital support to young people who feel alone, isolated and disconnected, creating a society that values and supports youth mental health.

‘I was sick and you took care of me’ (Matthew 25: 36).

Women’s Aid works to stop domestic violence against women and children, offering support and providing hope. They are reporting a 43% increase in calls during the lockdown, and a 71% rise in visits to their website. And these are not just shocking statistics: these are real women, reaching out, often in the dead of night, to be heard, believed and supported.

‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25: 36).

Finally, the bishop (Bishop Kenneth Kearon) has also asked for prayers this Sunday that respond to ‘Taking the Knee’ by praying for racial justice and equality.

The resources produced for this Sunday call us to affirm that racism is an affront to God and contrary to the Christian faith; that racism denies the reconciling work of Christ is for all people and breaks down the walls of division across all human distinctions; and that racism denies our common humanity in creation and our belief that all are made in God’s image. They remind us that our fundamental identity is found in Christ and not, as racism asserts, in terms of race.

‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25: 40).

This Sunday reminds us that Christmas is coming, that Christ is coming, that the Kingdom of God is coming.

We can prepare for these three events by responding to these three needs as reflections of our hopes for the Kingdom of God: youth mental health, domestic violence, and the need for racial justice.

And when the Kingdom of God comes, may we bring ‘forth the fruit of good works,’ may we ‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise’ (Psalm 100: 4).

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

‘He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats’ (Matthew 25: 32) … sheep and goats grazing together in a field in Platanias near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Matthew 25: 31-46 (NRSVA):

31 [Jesus said:] ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 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, 36 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.” 37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

‘He will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left’ (Matthew 25: 33) … sheep and goats in a sculpture in a garden in Knightstown on Valentia Island, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Liturgical Colour: White.

The Collect of the Day:

Eternal Father,
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. Amen.

Mission Collect:

Almighty God,
who called your Church to witness
that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself:
Help us to proclaim the good news of your love,
that all who hear it may be drawn to you;
through him who was lifted up on the cross,
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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. Amen.

Post-Communion Prayer (Mission):

Eternal Giver of love and power,
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom.
Confirm us in this mission,
and help us to live the good news we proclaim;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Christ the King … a large sculpture by John Maguire above the entrance to the Church of Christ the King in Turner’s Cross, Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Hymns:

281, Rejoice, the Lord is King! (CD 17)
427, Let all mortal flesh keep silence (CD 25)

Christ the King in the reredos in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things’ (Ephesians 1: 22) … a statue of Christ the King in the grounds of the parish church in Broadford, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)



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