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.
God the Father, help us to hear the call of Christ the King and to follow in his service, whose kingdom has no end; for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, one glory.
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.
For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 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, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
1 O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us heartily rejoice in the rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving
and be glad in him with psalms.
3 For the Lord is a great God
and a great king above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth
and the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands have moulded the dry land.
6 Come, let us worship and bow down
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
7 For he is our God;
we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
‘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.’
Sermon on Christ the King
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory’ – this phrase comes at an opportune time, because the magazine from the Reader Association had an interesting article about “The Son of Man”. Let me pick out the high points which should speak to us today on the Feast of Christ the King.
The author wrote that there are three types of saying about how the Son of Man will appear – first as the suffering servant, second as the judge at the end of days, and third, in line with today’s theme, as the King of Glory surrounded by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. We understand the Son of Man through any one of these images, don’t we? Apocalyptic literature places the Son of Man on the throne of glory, at whose coming all will tremble because of the power and majesty surrounding him. Apocalyptic anxiety is exacerbated by the second image, that of the judge. And who would not shake in their boots in those last times when the judge arrives? That judge who will value the whole of our lives, both the seen and unseen parts. But then our angst should be further agitated when we see the weak and suffering in our presence – because when the slave stands before us, paradoxically, we should see our King. In the weak and despised we should see the King of Glory. This is the eschatological reversal, when everything is turned around, like the beatitudes.
Just as we see the Saviour in the past, in the when of the Incarnation and the Easter event. So I would suggest that all of life is the time of the apocalypse. The past prophesies for that future in which the judge and King will come. In the present the poor are always with us as they stand before us, as Christ would in his time and in the future, as he does now in our imagination. Christ is in front of us as we remember and anticipate here and now. Every moment in which we live brings the past with it and the future to which it will go. This is what the some theologians would call, “the eschatological moment”, the now in which we see the reality of eternity all around us. We see reality whence it came and whither it will go – right now.
But let’s return to that Son of Man. There has been a current interpretation about the Son of Man which sees him as “just a human being”, frail and poor – in essence, the suffering servant writ small. He is far different to the heavenly King writ so large in flames on the clouds in glory. This view of the Son of Man is very widespread in theological circles. Many in this camp saw Jesus merely as a good teacher, a rabbi of rabbis, and a miracle worker. All that he did was accomplished as a mortal man, a fellow with no supernatural powers, but everything we ascribe to him was imposed by wishful thinking and the hope of a religious mania. However, there was a theological reaction to that limited view of Jesus, the man. It suggests that the figure of the Son of Man is more than “merely” a man, for although a man he had the face of an angel, though a man the name of God, the unwritten and unspoken name which we know as Jehovah was written on his forehead. Though a man he was also a miracle worker. This Son of Man is no mere human being, human though he was. This view of the Son of Man sees an extraordinary person, a divine presence in fact.
Like the merely human view of the Son of Man, this other view was all based on biblical evidence, even if they were non-canonical books. These views were supported by those texts which did not make it into the Bible as we know it today. Those texts show these two views of the Son of Man, both at the same time almost. So we need to look a little further.
Here we are going to get a bit theological … Now I would like to consider the language we use to speak about things that are significant for us.
Do we always use language which merely denotes this or that. Do we always speak of the hammer prosaically as when we say “The hammer is on the bench”? No, I don’t think so. Some of us might remember “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” about which the Beatles sang. That hammer was something different, wasn’t it? There are other hammers, aren’t there? Some people speak of the law as the hammer of justice, don’t they? There are cultural references to hammers which have nothing to do with that hammer lying on the bench – if we were Norse we would think immediately of Thor, wouldn’t we? There are many ways of speaking about things, and we have encountered them in the bible. From the very beginning people have used language in different ways – they have used similes, metaphors and symbols to convey their message. Some of these even obscure meanings – in other words, they hide what is being said. However, we hope they can be deciphered. We hope that when we interpret them, everything will be clear to all. The meaning is there in front of us in similes, metaphors and symbols, if, as Jesus says, we have ears to hear.
Similes are the easiest to understand, for they say something is like another – “a hammer is like a lump of stone” (it hurts if you drop it on your toe). It is simple substitution. It means what it says. “Her kiss was like a butterfly’s wing brushing my cheek.”
Metaphorical expression is a substitution as well, one thing suggests another. Jesus speaks of something as something else. This substitution is not equivalence. A metaphor makes us think of the implications of what is being said. It engages us to participate in the relationship it describes. There is comparison but there are implications to the significance of that comparison. The parables of the kingdom do exactly that. The stewards in that kingdom are judged by what they do. The implication of those stories suggest something greater than what the words denote.
Then there is symbolic language which we use from time to time. This is obviously different again, although there is the quality of simile and metaphor about this sort of language, but there is something more to it. There is a connection with a meaning which is not part of what is spoken. In simile and metaphor everything is provided. However, in symbol, the meaning is elsewhere, the significance has to do with something outside of itself. There is a transcendence to its immanence. The symbol is here in the world, but points beyond itself participating in that elsewhere.
So, when we use the phrase, “Son of Man” we are using symbolic language. “Son of Man” is a simile and a metaphor, but more importantly it is a symbol which draws us to something greater than itself. It reveals a universe of meaning, if we let it.
This is all very apposite, for next week we begin Advent when historically the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church contemplates the four last things. Essentially the Church is considers eschatology during Advent. The apocalyptic Son of Man signifies in his symbolic manifestation a very real human being in the world – something we really should be looking forward to.