Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King

Ezek. 34:11-16, 20-24
Ps. 100 [Ps. 95:1-7a]
Eph. 1:15-23
Matt. 25:31-46

We celebrate the liturgy to lift up our hearts, to lift them, as I read moments ago in a morning hymn, from the lowest places of life to the heights of heaven. “Great is your glory, and the memory of your praise, which they celebrate without end, who lift up [their hearts] from the lowest places” [Grandis est tibi gloria, tuae laudis memoria, quam sine fine celebrant, qui cor ab imis elevant]. Yes, lift your hearts to the King of heaven.

“If you have been raised with Christ,” says St. Paul, “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3).

A respite from the cares of life and a mystical ascent to the throne of heaven is the special grace of prayer and liturgy. A dismissal, however, or the word Amen, send us back into the world. Even when praying privately or during the liturgy, we bring deep things up; we cast earthly cares upon God; we rejoice and groan.

It is the “will of God to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (collect). Yet we live in a world “divided and enslaved by sin,” which is why it is so important to pray and work for a world restored and freed and subject to the gracious rule of Christ. Empowered by heaven, we set to work upon the earth; sustained by grace, we seek justice and mercy. This work of calling in the reign of Christ the King is, from beginning to end, the gracious work of Almighty God.

Speaking to Jews captive in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel promised a return to their homeland and their governance under “my servant David.” While the return would be difficult and the challenges many, the prophet saw God as the agent of their liberation. “I myself will search for my sheep . . . I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of cloud and thick darkness . . . I will bring them out . . . I will feed them . . . I will make them lie down . . . I will seek the lost, I will bring back the strayed, I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen them . . . I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David” (Ezek. 34:11-23).

Perhaps recalling the story of Moses, the prophet evokes the ancient theme of God the Liberator. “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians” (Ex. 3:7-8). Perhaps also recalling the divine name and authority to act, the prophet’s repeatedly uses the first-person singular pronoun. “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). God will act, but not without Moses, his servant. “I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Ex. 3:10).

The prophet’s promise of a return to the land of Israel is, in Christian terms, a foreshadowing of the reign of Christ over all the peoples of the earth. Like Moses, we have work to do. Some work will be great and extraordinary. Some work will be an unknowing ministration to the needs of Christ. “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). Work for the gracious rule of the King of kings by tending to the least, the lost, and the last.

Look It Up: Read Psalm 95.

Think About It: The King of joy and thanksgiving.