van Eyck lamb

Lamb and Shepherd: The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

The Reign of Christ
Christ the King

Ezekiel 34: 11-16
Ephesians 1: 15-23 OR 1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Matthew 25: 31-46

There is a poster on the wall in the weight room of our local recreation centre where I go twice a week for strength training, along with some amazing 70 and 80 year olds (yes, at forty-six my nickname is “the kid”). I try not to look at the poster as it gets my goat, blithely proclaiming that the destination matters not, only the journey is important. Except, of course, the destination in large part determines the journey and without a destination the journey can get pretty lost and chaotic. This coming Sunday, Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in this liturgical year, is set aside to highlight the destination of our journey together in Christian faith. Having come full circle and before we begin again a new Christian year, it is to remind us, with our hearts enlightened, of who we are and whose we are and of the hope to which Christ has called us.

The Feast of Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and so it is one of the youngest additions to the liturgical year marked by both Roman Catholic and many Protestant churches. Its initial induction was in the context of the rising maelstrom of nationalism, fascism and secularism in 1920s Europe with the intention of reminding Christians that their ultimate allegiance lay with Christ Jesus. Its importance was confirmed by Pope John XXIII’s revision of the calendar in 1960. Then, in 1969, Pope Paul VI expanded the title of the feast and moved it to its present location at the end of the liturgical year in order to emphasis the eschatological significance of the feast day.

Additions to the liturgical calendar do not always work. N.T. Wright, for whom I have a lot of respect and from whom I learn much, does not like Reign of Christ Sunday as a separate feast day. His preference is to see this highlighted as part of Ascension Sunday or the first Sunday in Advent. His concern about having a separate feast day is for the theological implication that Christ is gradually coming into his reign, which will only be complete upon his return to “judge the living and the dead.” This is not to say that Wright denies what the feast of Christ the King is trying to emphasize. He just wants us to be clear that Jesus is already fully reigning in, over and for the world, as his resurrection and ascension reveals. The outcome of history is assured. It is the full revelation of this that will come at the end, when every knee shall bend before Christ the King. Those of us already on our knees have been given a glimpse, a foretaste of what is and what is to come. This is the source of our healing, our transformation and our responsibility (and joy) to participate in and proclaim the good news of Christ Jesus.

I am of the mind that the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe is still worth keeping in its separate spot at the end of the liturgical year, keeping in mind the caution that Wright gives us. Though the bloody threats of the first half of the twentieth century are not quite so pressing today, there are many specters that have too happily risen in their stead. Upon listening to Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” recently, it struck me that the popular choice in North America today for “somebody” is ourselves; a narcissism which ultimately leads to serving Satan and the purposes of evil. The loss of the eschatological horizon, especially amongst Christians whose calling entails the stewardship of what the end of history is to be, has resulted in a loss of generativity from one generation to another. There is a place and a time to be reminded of the Sovereignty of Jesus and of the Judgment to come, and this is it!

In the texts for this day, especially from Ezekiel and Matthew, there is much talk of sheep and shepherding. After eight chapters of berating for Israel’s neighbors who have taken advantage and oppressed her, Ezekiel is called to prophesize against the shepherds of Israel who have led the people astray. Yes, we are sheep – not too bright and always in need of faithful leadership. God declares God’s intention to personally shepherd the people – to seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, strengthen the weak and to feed them on rich pasture. Adverbs abound and it is God who will do these things, including feeding the fat and strong not with rich pasture but with justice. Chew on that! – all of us in church leadership take note.

It is in Jesus that we Christians claim to see this Divine Shepherd, whose care and concern is for the whole of Creation – seeking, bringing back, binding, strengthening, feeding, dying, rising, ascending, reigning. In the text from Matthew we come to the end of a long-winded response by Jesus to the disciples question (24:3) of what will be the sign of his coming and the end of the age. After warnings and parables of that day, Jesus describes the scene of final judgment of all nations as the separation of the sheep and the goats. Goats are considered more intelligent than sheep and inclined to stubbornly go their own way whereas sheep are followers. “Follow me” calls Jesus, our shepherd who has been a sheep. And when we follow Jesus, this text claims, we see differently. As Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon state in Resident Aliens (pp. 83-4), “In God’s kingdom, the poor are royalty, the sick are blessed…We can only act within a world we can see. Vision is the necessary prerequisite for ethics.” We see too that this final judgement is cause for joy and celebration for it will be the radical healing and renewal of the whole world. Come again soon, Lord Jesus!

In closing, I would like to leave you with the lyrics of one of my favorite hymns, by Canadian hymnodist, Sylvia Dunstan , “You, Lord, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd”:

You, Lord, are both lamb and shepherd.
You, Lord, are both prince and slave.
You, peacemaker and sword-bringer
of the way you took and gave.
You, the everlasting instant;
you, whom we both scorn and crave.

Clothed in light upon the mountain,
stripped of might upon the cross,
shining in eternal glory,
beggared by a soldier’s toss.
You, the everlasting instant;
you who are both gift and cost.

You, who walk each day beside us,
sit in power at God’s side.
You, who preach a way that’s narrow,
have a love that reaches wide.
You, the everlasting instant;
you, who are our pilgrim guide.

Worthy is our earthly Jesus!
Worthy is our cosmic Christ!
Worthy your defeat and victory.
Worthy still your peace and strife.
You, the everlasting instant;
you, who are our death and life.

© 1991, GIA Publications, Inc

2 Responses to “Lamb and Shepherd: The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe”

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  1. Sr. marjorie Silva says:

    Iam really enriched by your reflection on ” You lord are both lamb and shepherd”…… I am a good shepherd sister in Sri- lanka Lives at St. agnes’ Convent Matale.
    Thak you so much for sharing your inspirations. My only heart desire is to come more and more closer to Jesus the Good Shepherd. I am sixty year old sister. I love to see all my sisters coming day by day closer to Jesus in their day today living. I am community Leader hear. please support me in your prayers.may God bless you always….Thank You.


  1. […] often. They often say in multiple circles throughout Christendom that Jesus is MASTER and King, from liturgy/hymns (here ) to sermons and other things.. Most worship songs in contemporary Christian music use the […]

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