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Sunday 26 November 2023 Reign of Christ/Christ the King, Proper 29

Whose choice is it anyway?

Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

By Aidan Platten

Canon Precentor, Norwich Cathedral

Context: a Eucharist in an English Cathedral

Aim: to explore what it means to be anointed or chosen

The past year in the United Kingdom has been heavily influenced by the royal family. The death of the Queen resulted in a significant outpouring of affection for someone whom the majority of the nation had never met in person. Thousands filed past her body as it was laid in state, and her funeral became a focus for many to bring their thanks and express their grief. At the moment she died, though, King Charles the Third acceded the throne and in May he was crowned. We witnessed an occasion of great colour, splendour, imagery and ritual, leaving other nations of the world thinking that the British are very religious!
However, deep in the midst of the pomp and ceremony was a moment of great intimacy that was shielded from our eyes. King Charles the Third dressed in a sort of nightshirt – as good as unclothed – was anointed. It was a sign of purity, of humility and a deep reminder that he is chosen. That’s what we really mean when we talk of anointing. It is a reminder that God calls each of us – chooses us – to be his friends. That’s why we anoint at baptism, confirmation and ordination.
On this feast day, we celebrate the kingship of Christ, the Father choosing the Son – the anointing of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Whilst similar in theme to the Ascension, this Feast holds together especially the sorrow and triumph of the cross; it shows us Christ the humble and Christ the victor; it reminds us that Christ is present in word and sacrament, in friend and neighbour, even in those whose company we would never seek out.
This feast connects us with the Kingdom that is both now and not quite yet. At the end of the year, it doesn’t so much round things off but prepares us to explore again what Christ’s coming means yesterday, today and tomorrow. We are readied for our journey in search of the new Jerusalem and to relish the chance to rejoice in the kingdom come near.
We find in the letter to the Ephesians a picture of a king of power. God has put Jesus far above all human power – all things are put in subjection under his feet. Here’s a king at whose feet we must fall, who drags us back to humility as subjects. This Jesus is ‘far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’, beyond our imagining. Unfathomable.
Matthew pictures a king who isn’t in a remote palace protected by guards. A king who isn’t waiting for the next slap-up meal to be served or controlling subjects like pawns on a chessboard. No, this is a king whom we meet in the people who make us feel uncomfortable when they beg and we give them no money. This is a king we meet in the man begging for his bread, in the woman curled up amidst cardboard in the doorway of the closed shop. This is the king who faces us in the man whose ill decisions or fragile mind mean he sees us only through prison bars.
This is the king who has taught us what love looks like, who calls us to be his friends. This is the king who calls us again, in the words of Jeremiah, ‘to seek the lost…bring back the strayed…bind up the injured…’ This is the king we serve when we seek justice for the weak and powerless and homeless.
Today’s feast could possibly be called Jesus the King, but it is called ‘Christ the King’. It reminds us that Jesus was the Christ, the ‘chosen’, or ‘the anointed’ one. We are bidden to listen again, to look more carefully, to discern from the world and people who shape our lives what God is calling us to be and do. This is a moment to ponder and discover what we are anointed to do and to be.
As well as the literal hungry, thirsty, naked, and strangers in foreign lands, humanity is hungry for good news; gasping to have spiritual thirst quenched and so often estranged from God and from the human bonds of love. Here is a moment to renew our commitment to God in Christ to serve one another, feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, clothe the naked and give the stranger a home.


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