Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Christ the King
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
There’s a show on TV – I don’t know if you’ve seen it – called the Undercover Boss. On the show, the director of a company, or one of his or her deputies, disguises themselves as an ordinary person and goes and works there. In one episode, it’s one of the directors of Paddy Power, who swaps his suit for jeans and a leather jacket, and poses as “Sam,” an unemployed IT specialist who needs a job – and goes and works on the shop floor.
And this undercover boss story is, in a way, at the heart of the Incarnation, and we hear it explained beautifully in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, where he tells the Christians there that though Jesus was divine, he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant, and having been born as a human, he became humbler yet, by accepting death on a cross.
Today’s feast has the wonderfully extravagant title of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – and although we usually shorten it to “Christ the King,” by doing so we lose some of the awesomeness of this fact – that Christ is King not only of the Church or even this world, but of all creation.
It makes the incarnation even more dramatic. Christ, who rules over the whole universe, comes to earth and is born as a humble baby. It’s said that if you throw a handful of sand into a great cathedral, the cathedral will be more full of sand than the universe is full of stars…and yet it is to us that Jesus comes.
And in our gospel today we hear that Christ does not simply identify with humanity, but with the lowest of humanity. He tells the sheep and the goats, that when they did or did not serve the most humble of humanity – the hungry, naked, cold, imprisoned and sick – their actions, good or bad, were done not simply to the lowest of the low, as humanity might consider them, but to the highest of the high.
Although God himself does not suffer – in heaven he is never hungry, nor thirsty, nor cold, nor sick – he identifies with those who do. On earth Jesus felt all the sufferings of humanity, and on the day of judgement, he tells us that when one of his children is hungry, thirsty, cold, naked, sick or imprisoned – it may as well have been him.
We are living in a time of great suffering. It’s almost ten months to the day since the UK recorded its first case of Coronavirus, since when more than fifty thousand people have died. We have been cut off from seeing friends and family. We have lived with the fear that something we cannot see or touch could kill us or those dear to us. And, of course, our worshipping life has been disturbed. I know that some of you have not received the Blessed Sacrament since the middle of March – for those who have been able to attend church, worship since then has been stripped bare of hymn-singing, we have not shared the peace during Mass nor coffee after it.
We have been hungry for the Body of the Lord; we have been thirsty for his precious blood. We have been afraid of sickness.
But in all of this, God has not ceased his eternal reign, nor has he abandoned us to face this alone.
We have suffered much, but we are fortunate – we have suffered, most of us, in the comfort of our own homes, with as much as we like to eat and a bed to call our own at night.
We know that many have not been so fortunate. Many have lost their jobs, and have been hungry. We saw this in the half term holidays with the mighty efforts of Marcus Rashford and those inspired by him, feeding children who otherwise would go hungry. And the Night Shelter has opened once more, but in spite of its wonderful new building, government restrictions mean that they can only currently host six people per night – and so there are still people camping in the walks or in Hardings Pits because they have nowhere else to go.
These are the people of whom our Lord says, “I was hungry and you fed me; naked and you clothed me.”
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, is King of the Universe. In his kingdom none are hungry; none are cold; none are sick.
Let us work to build his Kingdom, so that on the last day, he may say to us:
“Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.”