Jesus said, “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.”
--Matthew 25: 31-46
The first time I walked into the church where I serve in North Carolina my eye immediately went to the Christus Rex behind our altar. Looking at the Christus Rex, which means Christ the King, we see a grand and mighty image of the royalty and magnificence of Jesus. He isn’t nailed to the cross, instead he reigns from it. His crown is one of jewels, not thorns, and his clothes are fancy priest garments. Instead of appearing in agony he has his arms stretched out to welcome all who come to him. It is a lovely image of the kingship of Jesus.
The Christus Rex at Good Shepherd, Asheboro.
Fittingly, we focused on the Christus Rex this past Sunday as we celebrated Christ the King Sunday (or Reign of Christ Sunday, depending on where you were). It's not a feast day, but it is a celebratory day; after all, we wear white for the occasion. The day also marked the end of our Ordinary Time, as well as the final Sunday of our liturgical calendar. Why have a day to celebrate Jesus' kingship on the last Sunday of the church year? Because it is a reminder for us that Jesus reigns throughout all time and space--past, present, and future--for ever and ever, world without end. Amen.
Our Christus Rex sure makes him look like a king, doesn’t it? Still, when we pay attention to the parable Jesus gives in Matthew 25,which is the the Gospel text for Christ the King Sunday, we notice a different image of kingship being painted. Like nearly all of the parables we have been studying in Matthew's Gospel over this past year, this parable is meant to evoke images of the eschaton, the final judgment. It doesn't take a biblical scholar to see that the king in the parable is Jesus and that the judgment he is passing is an allusion to the eschaton. The king gathers the nations before him and says to the people that he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison, and that those who took care of him are blessed, while those who did no such thing are not so blessed.
Does this sound like any king you know? Does this sound like the sovereign that rules over the universe? Hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison? This sure doesn't sound like any king I know or can think of, which is the same reaction the king’s assembled subjects have in the parable. "When did we see you in those states?" they ask. "When could we have possibly offered you help? You! Our king!" For them the idea of seeing a king in any of those states, all vulnerable, wounded and weak, is antithetical to the very idea of sovereignty, of what a ruler should look like. The king’s response: you saw me in those states when you saw anyone else in those states. When you helped them, you helped me. When you ignored them, you ignored me.
This is what makes our Lord Jesus unlike any sovereign that has ever ruled, and will ever rule. This is what makes the Gospel so radical. Every idea about what royalty is meant to look like, how royalty is meant to act, is turned upside-down in the person of this Jesus. Kings are seated on thrones in palaces, they eat at banquets and are clothed in splendor. While Jesus does reign in glory, the very glory we see depicted in our Christus Rex, his earthly glory is something quite different. Here his throne is the bed in a hospice room, or homeless shelter, or prison cell. Here his clothing is tattered, with holes in his shoes. Here he reaches his hand out to us and asks us to help him before pulling the newspaper over himself so as to keep warm. This, brothers and sisters, is our lord Jesus, our king. And we encounter him every single day.
Do you want to see the face of Jesus, the face of our king? Look around you. Do you see anyone who is hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison? Seek out that person. Look that person in the eyes. That’s Jesus! He is known to us in the sorts and conditions of every human being, especially those that are so very easy for us to forget and ignore, those whom he called "the least of these." To serve them is to serve him. To respect their dignity is to honor his glory.
In a very real way, each person bears the image of our king. This is the cosmic Christ, the Jesus that exists in all living things. Thus, when we give to someone else, we are giving to Jesus. It's not about charity but relationship. When we seek out folks who in such great need and we establish a relationship with them, then we are nurturing our relationship with him.
In several cities and at several churches—including St. Alban’s in Davidson, NC and the Church of the Savior in DC—you will find statues of a homeless Jesus. As you might expect, these statues troubled many folks when they were first set up. These folks, who were of a more considerable economic means, had serious trouble with a Jesus in such a sad state. These folks need the Christus Rex, the Jesus that reigns in glory and power, the Jesus who is in full control; after all, we aren't exactly in full control of our own lives. It's easy to forget, but Jesus is just as human as any of us. This is what makes our king so different. He can be found in the coldest, harshest corners of our lives. It’s here that he invites us into a relationship with him. When someone is there, in those cold, harsh corners, and we take their hand, we are taking the very hand of the one who holds the whole world.
Homeless Jesus at St. Lucy's in Syracuse.
This is our king. He reigns from heaven above, from the wood of the cross, from the coldness of the prison cell, from the eyes and hearts of his own children, and all points in-between. As we celebrate his kingship may our eyes be open to seeing him reigning all around us, and may our hearts be set ablaze to serve and praise him by serving and praising others. For his is the king of glory, the king of peace, and we will serve, praise, and love him!