By Barbara Klugh
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text.
Christ the King: This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, known as Christ the King Sunday. Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King in 1925 to remind Christians that our loyalty is to our ruler in heaven, not to the rulers here on earth. In 1970, the Episcopal Church and other mainline churches also began to observe Christ the King Sunday, though some use the title “Reign of Christ” Sunday. I have a feeling that Christ is appalled—or maybe just amused—by images of him wearing a crown. I think he’d rather we think of him as Jesus Christ, Servant of God, and Servant of God’s Children.
This week’s readings look forward to the reign of Christ.
Ezekiel: Ezekiel was a temple priest who was exiled to Babylon in 597 BC along with three thousand other leading citizens. Five years later, God called him to be a prophet to his fellow exiles—the scattered flock. Ezekiel not only reminded the people it was their disobedience of God’s laws that led to the exile, but he also offered hope for the restoration of Israel and the temple.
Earlier in the chapter, and in the omitted verses in the lectionary, God condemns the false shepherds who have cruelly abused their power and exploited those who they were supposed to protect. In our reading God says that he will reverse this sorry state of affairs. He will be a true shepherd; he will search for the lost sheep, and bring his scattered flock back to good pasture. He will judge and separate the fat sheep (the oppressors) from the lean sheep (the oppressed). Finally, God will set up a shepherd-king to rule over the flock. He will appoint a good shepherd—a descendant of David—who will rule on God’s behalf. He will care for them, and the flock shall be safe and secure. “And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.” On this final Sunday of the church year, it is fitting that these verses anticipate the Incarnation of Jesus.
Psalm: This week’s psalm of joy, praise, and thanksgiving will be quite familiar to those of us who practice the liturgy of Morning Prayer. Known as the Jubilate, Psalm 100 is one of the most well-known psalms in the Psalter, and invites all people everywhere to worship God. It’s been set to music by many composers. Here is the Berlin Protestant Cathedral Boychoir singing a gorgeous composition by Felix Mendelssohn. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvZg3z-xC4o. It doesn’t matter that it’s being sung in German.
Ephesians: This letter is named for the Christian community in the City of Ephesus, now in western Turkey. It was an important center of Early Christianity from the AD 50s. Scholars think Paul wrote the Letter to the Ephesians while he was in prison in Rome, or that a later author wrote it in Paul’s name. It’s likely that the letter was meant to be circulated among a group of churches around Ephesus.
This week’s reading is known as Paul’s Prayer. Paul gives thanks to the Ephesians for their faith in Jesus and their love “toward all the saints.” Paul prays that God may give them “a spirit of wisdom” that “with the eyes of your heart enlightened,” they (and we) may fully know their heavenly calling, glorious inheritance, and the immeasurable greatness of his power. And “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead” and set him in the heavenly places to share God’s throne. Therefore, Christ’s authority is greater than all others, whether in heaven or on earth and for all time. Jesus is head of the church, and it is through the church that all things will be brought to completion.
Matthew: This week’s reading is the parable of the sheep and the goats; it is found only in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus compares the Day of Judgment to a shepherd’s separating sheep from goats. The Son of Man will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. The sheep are blessed and will “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But the goats are “accursed” and cast out “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
On Judgment Day, the king will take account of how each one of us has treated others in this life. Did we give food and water to the hungry and thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, and visit those in prison? In the parable, the people don’t remember caring for Jesus in this way, but Jesus says, “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.” As we take care of those who are less fortunate, it is as though we are taking care of Christ himself. When we are dismissed after the Holy Eucharist, often we are told, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” This is the work we have been given to do as we await the Second Coming: Serve the Lord by serving our neighbor.