Being human creatures in God’s world: Christ the King Sunday
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. (EZEKIEL 34:15-16, 20-24)
November 22 is the last Sunday in the Church calendar, traditionally known as “Christ the King” Sunday, now also the “Reign of Christ.” But unlike our other liturgical seasons – Advent and Lent, for instance, which date back millennia – this is a much more recent addition. It was in 1925, in the aftermath of World War One (which saw over 70 million drawn into the conflict, lasting years longer than anyone could fathom), and with the rise of populist movements and fascist leaders worldwide, that Pope Pius XI announced the Reign of Christ to the world: putting all would-be kings and would-be tyrants on notice.
And we should be quick to add, putting you and me on notice too.
This feast is a celebration of the God that governs all of Creation and is thus named “King” throughout Scripture. This is just one of the many titles used for God (and one which is difficult for many because of its patriarchal overtones combined with our harsh and brutal history of human kings). The King we find in Jesus, however, is unlike any human King. What’s more, Scripture gives us a broad array of images for God, such as here in Ezekial: God as Shepherd.
God is the good Shepherd, the prophet proclaims, who will search out and rescue all of us sheep. But those sheep who think they are well to do, those sheep who live with full bellies and self-determination (“fat and strong” as our passage reads) are given a warning – judgment awaits. You see, the one pre-requisite to being gathered into this sheepfold seems to be an awareness of yourself as a sheep – not the shepherd, but rather a humble creature who so often needs to be lovingly shepherded. Advent is a season to more fully embrace this station.
Being compared with a sheep may seem upsetting at first – but having spent several years learning to shepherd a small flock of sheep while living at A Rocha’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre, I have discovered the beautiful (and frustrating) qualities of these ruminants – creatures not so different from you and I. Sheep are herd animals, meaning they are as likely to follow one another into good pasture as they are through a hole in the fence. Sheep have personalities and can be quite determined. They care for their young. They are easily scared at night or in places of unfamiliarity. Not so different from you or I at all, in fact.
We are invited to see ourselves as sheep belonging to a good shepherd.
And so too, if we are to embrace God as King, we must loosen a grip on our crowns, and embrace the humble station of creatures of a good Kingdom.
That is not all – as Pius recognized, naming God as King also proclaims our faith in God as the one whose Kingdom includes all of Creation. And we are creatures of this Kingdom.
What might it look like this Advent season to enter and embrace this reorientation? To allow ourselves the beautiful and risky permission of being human creatures, first and foremost.
No longer the shepherd in charge of the sheep or pasture. But a sheep among the flock.
No longer the King or Queen or Ruler of the universe. But a member of the Kingdom.
How might we discover something afresh about the nature of this Kingdom, this sheepfold, to relinquish some of our grip on controlling it?
What solidarity might we discover, especially with our fellow creatures who are suffering and in need, as we see ourselves in the eyes of another – as belonging to one another, as sharing in the mystery of this life?
And how can we behave in this pasture of a world to ensure it is sustained and nurtured not only for ourselves and our needs, important as those are, but for the needs of all God has made?
Advent is a time to allow our hearts and our lives to re-orient to this sacred vocation – of being a human creature in God’s world. Not a king or shepherd, but under the loving care of the one who is.