Reflection for the Sunday before Advent (The Kingship of Christ)

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

‘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.’

Reflection

I recently read the very powerful and moving novel, American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins. It tells the story of a young woman and her eight-year-old son attempting to make their way from Mexico to the United States in order to escape a murderous drugs cartel who had murdered their whole family. It is a harrowing tale as they make their perilous journey during which they robbed, abused and exploited. All of the time they are in constant fear for their lives and being recognised by agents of the cartel.

As they arrive in one town following a particularly distressing incident, a local doctor notices them and offers to help them. No longer sure that anyone can be trusted, they ask him: “Why should we trust you?” In response, the doctor fingers a crucifix around his neck and says: “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me a drink” – a reference to the words of today’s gospel reading. This is an example of somebody living out their Christian faith with compassion, coming to the help of vulnerable people.

The setting for today’s reading within the gospel of Matthew is significant. These are the final words of a long discourse given by Jesus immediately prior to the Last Supper and his subsequent arrest, trial and crucifixion. We could say that this is the culmination of Our Lord’s teaching and so, it is worthy of our close attention.

The setting is in Heaven, with all the angels, where Christ sits enthroned in glory. Before him are gathered people from every nation and they are separated into two groups – the righteous and the unrighteous – where they are judged and both groups are taken by surprise. The righteous are invited to receive their reward because they provided food, drink, clothing and care for Christ when he was in need, but they are unaware that they had done so. “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?”, to which Our Lord replies “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”.

Similarly, the unrighteous are equally surprised to hear that they had failed to care for Jesus when he was in need and are told, “Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me”.

Throughout his earthly ministry, people constantly misunderstood the kind of Kingdom Our Lord came to establish and how he would go about it. Practically everything he taught about God’s kingdom was the polar opposite of peoples’ expectations. He taught his disciples to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. If we want to know what God’s will looks like, it is spelled out in this judgement scene in Matthew’s gospel. It is to respond to human need with compassion, knowing that what we do to help the most vulnerable people in our world, we do for Christ himself.

The church celebrates this Sunday before Advent as the feast of Christ the King. The King we worship today is the one who willingly suffered for our redemption. He suffers with the suffering and starving people of our world and he calls on us, his followers to reach out in love and compassion to address their needs. We are called to be aware of the need around us and to respond as Christ would have us do.

There are many different kinds of need in the world, and it is good that we have agencies that highlight specific areas. Let me just mention one. In the coming week the Mothers’ Union will begin 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence and they will be highlighting the problem of domestic abuse. Recently, the Gardaí reported an increase in calls made to them by victims of domestic abuse during the months of lockdown. This abuse can be physical, psychological or financial and much of it goes unreported as victims live in fear. By highlighting this issue, it can encourage them to come forward for help and make all of us aware of this need. In our prayers today, we will remember victims of abuse and pray for those who work to counteract it.

May our guiding principle be the words of Our Lord: “As you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”.

Collect for the Sunday before Advent

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
Keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Prayers of intercession

Let us pray to God in faith and love.

Father, we give you thanks
that in Christ Jesus you have redeemed the world.
He died that we might live.
He reigns with you and seeks us to be part of his kingdom.
We pray for all who are seeking to serve you in their daily lives.
We pray for this diocese and for Pat our bishop.
May your church reach out to the world with your compassion.

Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.

We ask your blessing upon all leaders of people,
And on all governments and rulers.
We long for the time when the kingdoms of earth
will become the kingdom of Christ our Lord.
We ask you to guide and strengthen
all who work for peace and justice in the world.

Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for the places in our world where there is suffering and pain.
We pray for the poor, the hungry, the oppressed,
and for all who are denied justice and human rights.
Today we pray with the Mothers’ Union for victims of gender violence and domestic abuse.
We pray for all who are trapped in abusive relationships,
those who are fearful for their own safety and for their children.
Grant them the courage to seek help and support.
We pray for the work of Women’s Aid
and for all who provide counselling, support and practical help for victims of abuse.

Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.

Lord Jesus, come as our King and rule in our lives.
May we seek to serve you in our homes and in our daily work.
May we strive for your kingdom in all our dealings.
We ask your blessing upon all who are dear to us, our families and loved ones;
through their love may we learn to love you more.

Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for all who have responsibility for public health policy during this pandemic. We give thanks for the signs of hope in the development of a vaccine to combat coronavirus.
We pray for the ongoing medical research and testing, that there may be a successful outcome.
We pray for governments across the world and in this land,
for health authorities and medical advisors, that they may exercise right judgement in the decisions they make to prevent the spread of the virus.
Protect all frontline medical staff in their work of caring for others

Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for all who are sick, remembering those from our community who are ill.
We remember those in hospital and those undergoing surgery or treatment,
those who struggle daily with pain and those receiving palliative care.
Help them to know that you are with them,
and grant them your strength, healing and peace.

Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.

We give thanks for the victory of our Lord
over hatred, darkness and death,
and that He has opened the kingdom to all who turn to Him.
We remember with thanksgiving
our loved ones departed from us.
May we rejoice with them in the fullness and glory of your kingdom.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all evermore. Amen.

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