By Deacon Timothy Siburg
Revised Common Lectionary reflection, Reign of Christ Sunday, Year A
November 26, 2023
Lessons: Matthew 25:31-46; Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23
Key Verse: “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.” (Matthew 25:40)
If you knew that your hour is nearly at hand, what might life look like? What choices might you make in those final days and moments? What last pearls of wisdom would you share? What stories would you tell? How would you be present with those you most deeply care about?
These aren’t supposed to be morbid questions, but bigger dreaming questions. Questions about legacy and choices of how one might steward their time. They arise because on this last Sunday of the church year, Reign of Christ Sunday, we are given one more lesson from Jesus. It’s part of the lessons and parables he shares with the disciples closest to him in his final hours before the events we know of as Maundy Thursday begin.
This week’s Gospel is not the happiest or easiest of lessons. It begins with an image that might befitting of a king with the Son of Man sitting on the throne of glory (25:31), and all nations gathered around. But right from there, we hear about division. The Son of Man “will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (25:32). This passage has long been interpreted in many ways, often in popular theological circles, as a way to explain how God determines salvation. And perhaps that is appropriate. But I wonder, if it’s more of a device here that Jesus uses to get people’s attention to know that how they live as stewards and disciples matters. It may matter for their own sakes, but it really matters for the sake of their neighbors.
In this light, it begins to make more sense how this is a fitting story to close the church year with Reign of Christ Sunday. For the reign of Christ is about relationships. Of seeing one another, meeting them where they are and caring for them. Of taking to heart Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the message of the Beatitudes, so that when all is said and done, we too might hear “well done, good and faithful servant,” “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” (25:35-36). And then wondering when that was, we too might hear, “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” (25:40). In this vein then, God’s people would be caring for each other. The Kingdom of Heaven and Kingdom of God does break in, bit by bit. And the reign of Christ does spread.
There is also the caveat for what we fail to do, however. For the occasions when sin and brokenness keep us from making time. When we choose to avoid our neighbor. When we don’t respond as we ought with what God entrusts. In that case Jesus says, “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.” (25:45-46). Imagine finishing reading this and saying, “the Gospel of the Lord.” How might the congregation’s tone be in responding, “Praise to You, O Christ.” Yeah. It’s not the happiest and easiest of lessons.
At its heart, the passage is lesson about stewardship and discipleship; about what it looks like to live as a follower of Jesus. Of caring for those in need. Of showing up. Of walking with. Of using what God entrusts to us to do what we can for the sake of their neighbors. All of this matters and makes a difference. And that difference so important that Jesus comes back to this theme throughout his ministry, and then again in his final days and moments.
So how do we respond? How do we show up with and for our neighbors? The answers might just shape what Jesus is inviting us to ponder one last time in the Gospel of Matthew this year before we turn to Year B in the lectionary next week with the start of Advent.
If I Were Preaching
I would probably weave in a story about my Grandma, who unexpectedly passed away a couple of months ago. She lived a life that mattered, even if she didn’t always know it or see it that way. She quilted, crotched, and helped produce and distribute hundreds of thousands of quilts, prayer shawls, towels, and other signs of love. She always made sure her kids were at church, even if that meant sitting in a car, bringing sandwiches for dinner as she took her kids from sporting practice to confirmation at church. She lived to see all her children and grandchildren go to college. She lived to see at least four of her grandchildren go to seminary. She lived through the isolation of a pandemic and found ways to connect online with her siblings in Christ. Even in the last days, in an assisted living facility on her own, she brought a spirit of hope and trust to her nurses, neighbors, and care staff. Her last text message to me a week or so before died in her sleep was, “Thank you very much! Love you too!”
What more could one hope for? But to do with what God entrusts to show love and be a part of God’s work in the world in our own various and unique ways? I think that might just be the question and invitation that Jesus is calling us to ponder on this last Sunday of the church year.
In the United States, Christ the King Sunday falls on Thanksgiving weekend this year. Might there be a way to connect the stewardship themes of Thanksgiving with the depth and discipleship of Christ the King? Perhaps an effective way might be to invite the congregation to participate in the sermon this week. Ask them, “So how do we respond? How do we show up with and for our neighbors?” Take responses aloud or written down. Put the disciples to work to lift up some of those examples and then include them in the Prayers of the People or Prayers of Intercession this week. For the idea of Christ the King or Reign of Christ is all about relationships, with God’s people serving, walking with, lifting up, and caring for each other. If choosing to share a story like the one I just shared about my grandma, maybe invite others to connect such a story with their own story too in some ways.
With Youth and Children
Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday provides an opportunity to do a little teaching. It’s the last Sunday of the Church Year. What might that mean or look like for the church calendar? Perhaps a Children’s Sermon talking about the church year could be effective here? Maybe using something like this as seen in Godly Play?
Alternatively, as it will be Thanksgiving weekend, if your context does not have a Thanksgiving worship service, this could be a great opportunity to invite the younger saints to share some words of gratitude. Perhaps simply ask, what do you want to say thank you for? Or who do you want to say thank you to? This could be powerful. If you want to incorporate a Children’s Book, I might encourage thinking about “The Thank You Book” by Mo Willems.
Either of these ideas could serve as the Children’s Sermon time or be woven in elsewhere in worship as it is a holiday and a festival weekend Sunday. Using either would create an opportunity especially to have the younger saints among the community to lead in worship and also lead by example, inviting all the disciples into an opportunity to learn, grow, serve, and share too.
Here are previous reflections for Reign of Christ Sunday, Year A:
2020 – What will you do?
2017 – Strange shepherd leader king
2014 – Team goat, team sheep, and the strange King of Everything
2011 – Ultimate reality: Goats, sheep, and Judge Jesus