Fr. Bill Carroll – Christ the King Sunday, November 20, 2022
Through Jesus, God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself…making peace through the blood of his Cross.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Psalm today reminds me of a beloved Collect from our Prayer Book. It is a prayer we need for the times we live in:
O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit, lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God…
Today, on this last Sunday of the Christian year, we turn our thoughts to the return of Christ in glory. And I am painfully aware that we live in anxious times. There is war in Europe. There is economic uncertainty. And here in our own country, there is suspicion and violence in the air, as neighbor turns against neighbor.
It has been that way since the days of Cain, whom Machiavelli considered to be the father of cities. For this infamous teacher of evil, every form of political order is founded on murder. In a defining poem of the last, blood-soaked century, called “The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats wrote that “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold…the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
And yet, we know that the center does hold. For the center is Jesus, the “image of the invisible God.” He is the firstborn of creation, the head of the Church, and the author of our salvation. All things are created through him and for him. And, in him, all things hold together.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. For Christians, history doesn’t advance except through death and sacrifice. Jesus is our Lord and King, but only through the Cross. He comes to show us how to find God in all things, how to love God above all things, and how to love our neighbors as ourselves. And so, we pray this morning that “the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.” That’s what Paul is getting at in today’s Epistle, when he says that “through Jesus, God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself… making peace through the blood of his Cross.”
In the 1981 film, Excalibur, there is a pivotal scene in the life of King Arthur. At this point in the movie, a dee; darkness has long covered the land. Sir Perceval has nearly died in his quest for the Holy Grail. And, at long last he returns with the cup of Christ. He holds it up to Arthur’s lips, and he says to him, “You and the land are one. Drink.” Arthur replies, “I am wasting away. I cannot die, and I cannot live.” But Perceval insists. “Drink from the chalice,” he says, “You will be reborn, and the land, with you.” I mention this scene this morning, because I wonder what it tells us about Jesus, our King. At a minimum, it tells us that the life of a king is one with that of the people.
In a real but imperfect way, we saw this in the life of Queen Elizabeth. At her funeral, which took place in the very same church as her coronation, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that “In 1953, the Queen began her Coronation with silent prayer, just there at the High Altar. Her allegiance to God was given before any person gave allegiance to her.” The Archbishop went on to say that “people of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer,” he said, “But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.”
Beloved, in a way that far surpasses any other human ruler, Jesus is our King. He has become Lord of all by his loving service to others. Truly, Jesus and the People are one. He lives and dies for the whole world, and everyone in it.
And so, Jesus is the King of our hearts and our lives. He is with us in our everyday struggles. He is with us as we work to make ends meet and send the kids to school. He is with us in places of brokenness and grief and estrangement. He is with us to give us hope, to show us mercy, to show us how to love.
At the same time, Jesus also rules over the nations. He is the “righteous branch” that Jeremiah is talking about. He is the Son of David. He is God’s Messiah. He is the bringer of God’s justice and peace to the nations. In our lesson from Jeremiah today, the LORD confronts the rulers who scatter his flock and drive them away. God promises to bring his People back to the fold and give us true shepherds. These kings will tend God’s flock, so that none shall go missing or be afraid. They will make the LORD their righteousness. We believe that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the world’s true King—who fights off the wolves and lays down his life for all of us.
In many years, on Christ the King Sunday, we hear from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, the scene of final judgment. Here, Jesus teaches us about the various ways that we must show mercy and do justice to our neighbors, and to their bodily needs. For Matthew, we are not so much judged by what we believe, as by how we treat other people. And so, our Lord calls us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to house the homeless, to welcome strangers, and to visit those in prison. For “as you did it unto the least of these,” he says, “who are members of my family, you did it unto me.”
In the world as we have made it, mercy and justice are often in short supply. Too often, it looks like things are falling apart—and that the center cannot hold. As those who have decided to follow Jesus, we are called to recommit ourselves to him.
Until he returns in glory, we face a decision every single day. Will we follow Jesus in the way of love, or will we enlist in the army of Cain? Will we obey our Lord and do what he told us to do, or will we be ruled instead by fallen powers of this world?
Often, we try to keep a foot in both camps. (It’s human nature.) But the stakes are too high to waver. We risk paying heed to the loudest voices in our world. And, too often, these voices seek only to divide and scatter us—to stoke our fears, and even call for blood.
And so today, we hear the words of forgiveness that Jesus offered those who murdered him. We hear his words from the Cross: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Or to the thief who repented: “Truly, today you will be with me in paradise.”
And we turn to Jesus. We turn to him, who lives and reigns, and shows us how to love. We turn to Jesus. We turn back to each other. We turn back to God—and live.