Homily by Father David Brinton, OGS
Today, the Feast of Christ the King or the Reign of Christ, is the last Sunday of the Church year, the end of the annual liturgical cycle that commemorates the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ, the pattern of Christian worship by which we remember Jesus and are made more and more like him. Next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, begins the church’s New Year.
Today we also bid farewell to the gospel of Matthew as the primary source of the Sunday gospels. Next year Mark takes over. And so it is fitting on this day of endings that we hear Matthew’s parable of the Last Judgement, the separation of the sheep and the goats by the Son of Man when he comes in his glory at the end of time. “This is what the end of all things looks like,” today’s gospel tells us. Strangely, on the first Sunday of the new church year next week, the gospel will also be about the end of time and the last judgement. The Church year paradoxically begins and ends in the same place.
Why is that so? The answer might be found by focusing on the meaning of that word “end”. The “end” of all things.
The word end does not only refer to chronology, to the conclusion of something, but also to purpose. To ask about the end of something is to ask what it is for.
St Matthew’s Parable of the Last Judgement is the last word of Jesus to his followers and to the church before his passion begins. Immediately after this, the conspiracy to arrest him begins among the powerful in Temple and Empire, church and state, in Jerusalem.
And so at the end of his teaching and healing ministry, Jesus says “this is what it has all been about, and now, let us go up to Jerusalem for the end which will be the real beginning of the new age.”
In this last word of Jesus to his followers and to the church before the passion begins, he identifies himself with the outcast: the hungry, the thirsty, the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned. This characterized his own incarnate life (Ratzinger): the child who comes in Bethlehem is the one without home or property, with nowhere to lay his head; that child when grown up will become a prisoner, accused, dying naked on the cross.
And so, since Jesus gives us himself in the Eucharist we can say that in Holy Communion this is what, or rather who, we receive: the hungry and thirsty, the naked and sick and imprisoned, all who suffer in the world, this is who we take into ourselves in the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. This solidarity of the Christian with the outcast, with those who are “othered” in any kind of way is made sacramentally real in the Eucharist. Is it real in the way we live our lives the rest of the time? The answer to that question, today’s gospel suggests, determines our eternal destiny.
Is the Reign of Christ visible in the church and the world here and now? What does that look like? This Sisterhood is an incarnate expression of the Reign of Christ in this particular time and place as it has been in so many places through all these years helping to make that Reign explicit in the lives of those who have come within your orbit of hospitality, healing, teaching and prayer and the whole Church owes you such a debt of gratitude for this ministry in which you have identified with those in every kind of need or sorrow, identified with the Christ in them.
Today’s Feast and today’s gospel force us to confront social evil and our treatment of the most oppressed and vulnerable among us but ultimately it asks: what is the state of the kingdom of our souls? Who and what reigns there? St Bernard of Clairvaux prayed: “And now Lord Jesus, come and remove the stumbling-blocks within the kingdom which is my soul, so that you who ought to may reign in it.” The current title of today’s feast in the Roman church is The Feast of our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe, implying that the affairs of our individual hearts, of the world we hear about in news reports and the mysterious energies that lie behind the spinning galaxies are all intimately related, and all subject to the reign of the reconciling love of God in Jesus Christ.
As this liturgical year draws to a close once again, we are asked: to what end is all this? What is the purpose? What of our hearts – yours and mine? What are our priorities, do we desire to redeem the time, giving concrete expression to our hope for the future, our faith in God’s church?
As we prepare for Advent once again, may God give us all grace to know that in our end is our beginning. Our Father who art in heaven, thy kingdom come…