Last Pentecost: Christ the King
Cant. 16 [Ps. 46]
When human shepherds fail the flock of God, judgment comes. “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” (Jer. 23:1) The betrayal is primarily a form of neglect. “You have not attended to them” (Jer. 23:2). No doubt, such shepherds may give a public show of their concern, but the destruction and dispersion of the flock is itself proof that the shepherds care more for their own interest and comfort than for the flock and its need. Woe to those who presume to teach or lead. A shepherd may be removed, and new shepherds installed under the watchful eye of God. “I myself will gather the remnant of the flock out of all the lands where I have driven them” (Jer. 23:3). “I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing” (Jer. 23:4). Preeminent among the shepherds will be the one righteous branch, a king from the house of David.
In the fullness of time, The Good Shepherd-King arrives as Christ the Lord. He gathers all people, even human nature itself into his divine person. He gathers not only what is good and true and beautiful, but all the contorted and distorted evils of the human heart and mind, and the tribulation and groaning of the natural world. He takes them in love and without resistance, but at great personal cost, for the conflicts and violence of the world are drawn into Christ. He willingly assumes it to transform it, but first he allows it to be what it is in all its violent force.
Could it have been otherwise? Creation occurred through divine pronouncement and ended in peace. God created and then God rested. Could one imagine a similar incarnation? God comes in Christ and declares peace on earth, and it is so. “All things were created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of his body, the church: he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was please to dwell, and through him God was please to reconcile to himself all things” (Col. 1:16-19). All things, it should be noted, must be reconciled through Christ because they have fallen from their original perfection. It is this fallen condition, and the full force of its violence, that literally causes “the blood of his cross.”
Some of this must be seen, not for its violence per se, but for the love that motivates Christ to bear it. “When they came to a place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left . . . And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him . . . The soldiers also mocked him . . . One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him” (Luke 23:33-39). Though betrayed, denied, abused, and ridiculed, Jesus stands fast in a love that simply IS. He does not defend himself or retaliate. Instead, he absorbs every abuse until love and forgiveness are all in all. He exhibits the full force of his divine power chiefly in showing mercy.
We have a bloody Shepherd, a wounded king, but the Shepherd’s love is all powerful and unending, and his kingly dominion endures from everlasting to everlasting. He bleeds because he was afflicted by human beings, and no one is exempt from this guilt. In utter and unimaginable love, Jesus assumes human guilt and punishment and transforms it by an elixir of divine love.
Look It Up: the collect
Think About It: His most gracious rule is his loving heart.