Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, our Lord and King: grant that the peoples of the earth, now divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his gentle and loving rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
Hear the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. Matthew,
Glory to Christ our Saviour
‘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. 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, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 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; 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, 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.” 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? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 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.” 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; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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.” 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?”
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.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Give thanks to the Lord for his glorious Gospel
Praise to Christ our Lord
Outside this very Church; fitted into the corner at the wall is a quite special red postbox. I’m not sure I’d ever seen one like it before arriving in Lanark. What makes it special – and the observant amongst you will already know this – is the initials inscribed on the postbox. It doesn’t have the usual initials ER II, for the reign of Elizabeth the second; but VR – for the reign of Queen Victoria. That means that whilst this church has stood here, the reigns of many British monarchs has come and gone, with their different styles of kingship and queenship; their different crisis’ and recoveries. Not only have the individual monarchs changed, but the nature of what it means to be a monarch – to reign – I’m sure you’ll agree has changed drastically over time, even between the time of queen Victoria and our current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. For one, the reigning queen is now allowed to smile, whereas Victoria was usually pictured with a disinterested scowl on her face – ‘we are not amused’. Queens are now far more accessible – appearing on TV at Christmas was one of the big changes that happened under Queen Elizabeth II; indeed, The Crown Netflix series, will let you know absolutely everything about our current day monarch as well as helping you get through another 3 weeks of near lockdown. Styles of monarchy have changed: public image and approval has never been more important, whereas in Victoria’s day people were more content to accept the way power had been handed down. Postboxes tell a story about the reigns of the queens and kings and the way that power is held and embodied by them. What you may not realise is that Christ Church, this building, speaks about the reign of a king, by its very existence, by the fact we still gather, by it’s very name – the name of Christ the king.
But what kind of king and reign are we to expect? Is he approachable like Elizabeth the II; disapproving and aloof like Queen Victoria. Is his a constitutional-type monarchy like we have, where the outward signs of power, empire and respect remain, even postboxes remain, but real life, important decisions, change happens elsewhere. Religion can fall easily to that model, being dignified, formal, correct in all it’s outward signs, whilst failing to meet the needs of your inner life and shape your real life decisions. I hope we can agree then that Jesus is not a constitutional monarch; but neither is he a king who rules through the kind of tyranny and fear that we learned about in the life of Henry the 8th for example.
By contrast, in today’s passage, Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd – one who gathers, one who knows his sheep and they know him. That’s the first image of Christ the king, reigning – yes in heavenly power, on his throne surrounded by angels – but using that power to gently call his own to himself, in order to care for; nurture them, not only for time but for eternity. It’s Jesus who will one day call you and I into heaven, inviting us as a shepherd into our eternal pasture. At a time when death seems to be reigning supreme, the shepherd king who himself brings us into heaven, should give us the confidence that life will reign supreme in the end because of who Christ the King is.
But Jesus went further than simply being their shepherd. He does more than shake hands with loyal well wishers at royal events. Jesus said: anyone who is hungry, naked, thirsting, persecuted, lying in a covid hospital, you are me and I am you. The king, who came from heaven, becoming a man like you and I in every way, even when he returns to his throne, remains here on earth – within the poor; the suffering; the imprisoned of this world. If you want to see and meet king Jesus, look no further than the foodbank. Look no further than the homeless on our streets. Look no further than those caught up in a criminal justice nightmare. In the reign of Jesus Christ, those people and those who respond with grace towards them are the new royal family.
‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 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.’
What’s astonishing about the reign of Christ the King is that it doesn’t need postboxes with big initials to announce itself. There won’t ever need to be a Netflix series dedicated to getting to know Jesus because most of the time he’s right in front of us. Neither the sheep and the goats in the story; the blessed and the condemned; neither of them knew they were encountering Jesus when they were doing acts of kindness – or when they refused kindness. Jesus is so fully identified with those in need that he is practically indistinguishable from them in our lived experience. I think this makes Jesus more approachable than any monarch we’ve ever known; it makes his power far more present than any empire ever built; it makes his impact far more real than any monarch in any country at any time.
Each time you go out from this place and make a donation; speak a kind or comforting word; act with the same grace that you have been shown by Jesus; you are having a royal encounter, whether you realise it or not. Equally, each time you close your ears to the plight of others, react with anger, or focus on your own kingdom rather than the needs in front of you, you are having a royal encounter – only in that case, one that’s gone rather badly. Be encouraged, be aware, be mindful, that you are in the presence of royalty potentially each time you step out of the house and into the path of another human being, for Jesus is within them and within you, calling you to greater and greater life as a member of his family: both here and for eternity.
Christ our king, your reign is from everlasting, established to clothe the naked; feed the hungry and free all from captivity to sin and darkness.
May your reign be felt in the middle east at this time, in the royal city still divided by religious and political difference. Help human beings to find within each other the divine image, which demands compassion and understanding, rather than war or cruelty. Give courage to political leaders, there and everywhere, to see beyond individual differences to the need for peace which must be met.
Lord, hear us, Lord graciously hear us.
May your reign be established through your church, not by empty words or grand gestures, but through simple love, which recognizes and meets the needs surrounding it. Help Christ Church, which bears your royal name, to be open to the cries of those who are hungry, persecuted or sick; and answers those cries with the same grace that we have enjoyed in you. Bless Kevin our Bishop as he discerns the needs of our Diocese and leads us in mission to address them.
Lord, hear us, Lord graciously hear us.
May your reign strengthen and encourage all who are in hospital with covid this day, and any who feel like its reign of terror will never end. Grant safety and success to all nurses, care staff and doctors who tirelessly serve the sick without concern for themselves, meeting first the needs in front of them. Help those who have asked for our prayers, who may struggle to recognise your presence in their pain and to know that you are with them as a shepherd through their time of need: praying for: Tom, Christine, Ian, Les, Olive, Chris, Bill, Joyce, Ann, John, Avril, Helga, Colin and Margaret.
Lord, hear us, Lord graciously hear us.
May your reign go before us, making a home for us in the heavenly city, where death is conquered by life eternal. Welcome us there at the time of our death, and those whom you have called to be with you to share in eternal life: Chas, Jocek. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
All of these prayers we offer in the name of Christ our king, who reigns forever and ever. Amen.