Saturday, November 12, 2016

Sunday 20 November 2016 - Christ the King (or The Reign of Christ) Sunday - 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday is also Aotearoa Sunday and it is the Sunday Before Advent, also known as Stir Up Sunday, and the Collect supplied below for the Sunday before Advent gives it that name.

Theme(s): Christ the King / The Lord Reigns / Stir Up Sunday

Sentence: He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land (Jeremiah 23:5)


Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people
that, richly bearing the fruit of good works,
they may by you be richly rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our King. 

Readings, related:

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43


Sometimes this Sunday is also celebrated as 'Stir Up Sunday', this informal name for the day being drawn from the collect above, the collect for the Sunday before Advent. If we pray the collect truthfully then we are asking the Lord to stir us out of complacency and disobedience to be aligned with the will of God and thus, with an eye on the theme of Advent, ready for the return of Christ the King whenever that takes place.

Jeremiah 23:1-6

An ongoing problem for Israel was its leadership. Whether we think of Israel's religious leaders (priests, prophets) or political leaders (kings), there were too many leaders (shepherds) causing destruction rather than construction in respect of Israel's fortunes.

Jeremiah, speaking for God, rails against these shepherds and forecasts a day when the Lord will bring back the Israelites (sheep) scattered far and wide and raise up for them shepherds who are genuine shepherds (23:1-4).

This general vision of shepherds plural is a prelude to a specific vision of days which are 'surely coming' when one shepherd 'for David' will be raised up as a 'righteous Branch', a king who deals wisely, executes justice and righteousness (v. 5). This king, Christians now see and understand is Jesus Christ (the Anointed of God). 'In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety' (v. 6).

Psalm 46

In the midst of tumult (think, e.g. about being a Christian in the midst of Trump's America or in the midst of civil war in Syria) it is a severe challenge to believe that 'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble' (v.1).

The specific context of this psalm is tumult overwhelming Jerusalem 'the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High' (v.4). Ever since the church has drawn comfort from this psalm: God is our refuge. The epitome of this comfort is the hymn of Luther, A Mighty Fortress is our God.

For ourselves, our challenge may be that we find, in the midst of life's storms, the still centre within God and God within us: 'Be still, and know that I am God' (v.10).

Colossians 1:11-20

On this 'Christ the King' Sunday, we find in this passage from Colossians a lovely yet robust statement of who Jesus Christ is: king of creation and king of church. 

The word 'king' is not actually used, but the talk is of 'the kingdom of his beloved Son' (1:13) and descriptions of the king of this kingdom include: 'firstborn of all creation' (v. 15), 'He himself is before all things' (v. 17), 'He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead' (v. 18).

The beginning of the passage is a prayer for the readers of Colossians (including you and me, reading today!). The prayer is for the continuing transformation of our lives towards the goal of 'inheritance of the saints in the light' = 'kingdom of his beloved Son' (vss. 12-13).

One important point of the adoring affirmation of who Christ is which follows (vss. 15-20) is that this same Christ is the one at work within us. If that is not encouraging ... :)

Luke 23:33-43 "This is the King of the Jews"

This gospel passage has its most apt context as a whole passage in the telling of the story of the crucifixion of Jesus (and thus rightly forms part of cycles of readings on Good Friday).

In the context of 'Christ the King' we read the passage as an affirmation of Jesus' kingship, expressed in his suffering, offering the paradox of being in charge of the world precisely at the point of being most subject to the world and its vicious, abusive power.

Thus the title tacked to the cross, 'King of the Jews' is ironically accurate and apt. An attempt at mocking this 'criminal' by the authority which cravenly gave in to crowd pleasing, the title captures the simple truth that this descendant of David was indeed an Israelite king. Its only inaccuracy is that Jesus was more than king of the Jews: he was and is king of all peoples.

Note the way in which Jesus acts in a royal fashion: when the thief who recognises his innocence and his kingship ('when you come into your kingdom', v. 42) asks that Jesus 'remember' him, Jesus bestows upon him the greatest blessing any king could give. 'Today you will be with me in Paradise' (v. 43).

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