Christ the King – Sunday before Advent
You are warmly welcomed to this Sunday Eucharist, the Sunday before Advent – Christ the King. Rev. Dr. Mattijs Ploeger leads us in our worship.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The First Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24
The Second Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-end
The Gospel Reading: Matthew 25: 31-end
1. Weeks of expectation and hope
Today is the “Sunday next before Advent”. Today is the last Sunday of the Church Year. Next week, on Advent Sunday, a new Church Year will begin. But the themes and the atmosphere of the last Sundays of the Church Year are not very different from the themes and atmosphere of Advent.
The Sundays at the end of the Church Year are marked by expectation and hope. Hope for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Hope for the revelation of Jesus Christ as the King of his eternal Kingdom – of which we profess in the creed, “and his kingdom will have no end”.
The Sundays of Advent are likewise marked by expectation and hope. Not just hope for the birth of Christ. Christ has already been born some 2000 years ago. Advent is not so much a preparation for Christ’s first coming, as it is a preparation for his second coming.
The conclusion is: both in November and in December we celebrate Sundays of expectation and hope.
2. The first reading
In the first reading, we heard God pronounce this hope for his people. The prophecy of Ezekiel is directed to a people that suffered under deportation – away from Jerusalem to Babylon. In the reading, we heard God speak to his people as a shepherd to his flock. God promises to care for his people. “I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. […] I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered […]. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak”. Quite a promise.
Are we able to hear such a reading, as if it is directed to us? Are we experiencing our life, or the world in which we live, as a kind of exile, from which God promises to deliver us?
I assume, many people today experience their life, or the life of the world, as an exile. But the question is: Do we hope for God, who will deliver us, like a shepherd who brings back his flock?
These weeks at the end of the Church Year, and the coming weeks of Advent, want to revive in us this hope. They want to kindle in us the flame of hope, they want to revive in us the fire of expectation. Isn’t that one of the main differences between a secular world view and a Christian world view – that we are called to hope?
3. The gospel reading
But sometimes I encounter people, who have never learned to see the end of the Church Year as a time of expectation and hope. They have rather learned to see these Sundays as frightening. Looking for the Kingdom of God was rather: being afraid of the Last Judgement.
This view seems to be confirmed by today’s gospel. Jesus will sit on the throne of glory and he will separate the sheep from the goats. Some people will “inherit the kingdom”, other people will be sent away “into the eternal fire” and “into eternal punishment”. If that is what we have to celebrate at the end of the Church Year, than we should perhaps fear the future rather than hope for it.
But let us examine, what Jesus actually tells us in this gospel reading. He doesn’t ask the kind of questions we would expect from a king on a throne. He doesn’t ask: Did you believe in me during your life? Did you go to church during your life? No, Jesus just observes, whether we have been of assistance to vulnerable people. Whether we have given food to a hungry one, whether we have taken care of a sick one, whether we have been welcoming to a stranger.
But that is not exactly how Jesus talks about it. Jesus asks more specifically: Did you feed me, when I was hungry? Did you take care of me, when I was sick? Did you welcome me, when I was a stranger?
In other words, Jesus asks whether we recognise him in the face of our neighbour. The question is not only, “Am I a good person?” The question is, “Do I recognise Jesus Christ in the people who cross my path, in the people with whom I live?”
4. We are invited to expect Christ
These weeks at the end of the Church Year, and the coming weeks of Advent, want to revive in us hope and expectation.
We are invited to expect Christ. Not only at the remembrance of his birth, and not only at the end of time, but also here and now. We are invited to expect the coming of Christ in our lives. He comes to us in his word, in his sacrament, but also in the face of everyone who crosses our path. There is more Jesus than we think. Jesus may come into our lives in unexpected ways.
We are invited to hope. This world is not lost. In this world, Christ is working. As we heard in the second reading, Christ was once raised from the dead and now he rules in the heavenly places. From there, Christ prays for us and he fights for us, until all things are put under his feet and God will be all in all.
Let us hope for that day, let us expect that day, and let us live towards that day.
O God our Heavenly Father, in Whose hands are all the corners of the earth,
and Who alone can bring order out of chaos;
We pray You to look in pity on our world, a world struggling still with the ravages of Covid19,
a world constantly confronted by the dramatic consequences of climate change,
a world witnessing social and political instability in so many countries;
We think particularly at this time of China, with its already oppressive regime, now threatening Hong Kong with inhuman measures to achieve submission;
Heavenly Father, we pray for our world struggling with the many powers of evil, hatred and greed,
and for all governments and leaders that they may turn to You for guidance at this time of their great need for wisdom;
Lord in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
We continue to pray for the Church with its many problems, within and without, in its apparent helplessness in an increasingly alien world, and struggling to keep afloat in the violent and stormy seas;
renew and strengthen it in the one hope of Your Son’s return in power, fill its ministers with Your Holy Spirit to discern what You would have them do, and to witness for Your truth, that in the light of their witness people and rulers may turn to You;
And we in this Chaplaincy thank you for great blessing of our visiting ministers, faithfully supporting our Chaplaincy in its interregnum, particularly at this time for Fr. Mattijs Ploeger;
Lord in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for all in distress at this time,
for whole peoples living under oppression, and for the millions of refugees fleeing for their lives from oppressive regimes;
We pray for all sick and suffering, for the depressed, the bereaved, and those struggling with their faith;
we pray particularly for those of our own congregation, for those on our Chaplaincy Prayer List;
for those too frail or handicapped to be present with us in Church,
and for those for whom we personally wish to pray …..
Comfort, O God, all in distress, relieve them from their suffering if it be Your will,
and lift them up in Your everlasting arms;
Lord in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for the souls of the faithful departed this life in the faith of Christ,
may they rest in Your peace and awake to a joyful resurrection.
Heavenly Father, You have promised to provide light in the darkness for those who trust in You:
Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what You would have us do,
the humility to listen to Your Holy Spirit, and Your light to guide our footsteps that we may not stumble;
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of Your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen
Anthem and Hymn
Anthem: O clap your hands together – Orlando Gibbons
Hymn: NEH 334 – All people that on earth do dwell
Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. In the name of Christ. Amen.