The Reign of Christ: what does it mean?


Reign of Christ: Scripture, Matthew 25: 31-46 Nigel Bunce



Today, the Reign of Christ, is the last Sunday of the Church year. Next week, Advent begins the cycle again. The Reign of Christ is a chance to think what the world might look like if everyone behaved like Jesus.

An analogy for today’s Scripture

When I eat out, I often choose fish and chips. Some Guelph restaurants serve good fish and chips. Others, not so much. Poor fish and chips often looks good. But when you cut into the batter, it’s heavy and greasy, and the piece of fish is small.

Today’s Gospel is a metaphor for a certain type of fish and chips. The fish is beautifully cooked and flaky. But to get to it, you must dig through heavy, greasy, and indigestible batter. And even after you get to the fish, you discover that it was sitting on more of the same greasy batter.

In our Gospel reading, the greasy batter is Matthew’s preoccupation with Judgement Day. He used the metaphor of sheep and goats. The sheep will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The goats face eternal punishment.

Fortunately, the fish in the middle of this meal is excellent. Jesus asks his followers (us) how they (we) will treat less fortunate people. He singled out the hungry and thirsty, strangers, poorly clothed people, the sick, and people in prison. Will we show them kindness and compassion? Because whether we treat them well or badly, it will be as if we treated Jesus himself that way.

Is the Reign of Christ really about the end of the age?

Today’s Gospel passage opened by talking about the end of the age – “When the Son of Man comes in all his glory and the angels with him …” My perspective differs from Matthew’s. I focus on the here and now. Personally, I hope that being cast out eternally into the outer darkness is Matthew’s editorial about what Jesus said. Not Jesus’ own words.

To help or not help the less fortunate mirrors precisely two of the promises in our baptismal vows. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

These promises reflect what I said on All Saints Day. As saints, we try our best to follow Jesus. Jesus asks us to think about the Reign of Christ – or alternatively, the Kingdom of Heaven. What would it be like if it were in place right now? Don’t obsess about what might happen at the end of the age.

A practical perspective on the Reign of Christ in 2020

Every year, St George’s undertakes a special Christmas charitable activity. This year I suggest that we partner with Dean Nina Page of Grace Church Milton, whom many of you know. Nina has made a list of needy people in transitional housing or in the community. There’s information in our weekly e-mail on what’s needed.

Please give this program serious prayerful consideration. It speaks directly to this week’s Gospel message. When we help the less fortunate in our community, we help Jesus. We become like Jesus. We bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer in our ordinary world. And we uphold our baptismal promises

Today’s Gospel addresses 1st century Jewish foresight that the world would soon end. A couple of weeks ago, I said that Jews expected God’s Messiah to come and sort the world out by ushering in a new reign of justice and peace. To replace their contemporary world of corruption, Roman occupation, and violence.

Of course, it didn’t happen that way. Two thousand years on, and the end of the age has still not happened. And there’s still corruption and violence in the world. That’s why the other aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven resonates with me. Bringing the Kingdom a little closer here, right now.

The Reign of Christ in the here and now

But essentially I ask the same question as Matthew. “What would the Reign of Christ – or alternatively, the Kingdom of Heaven – look like if it were in place right now? Not how we might be judged at the end of time?” Because Kingdom people try to make this world fairer, more equal, without discrimination.

Kingdom people don’t just grieve for the hungry. They take action. So that some people can go to bed without feeling hungry. So that others can work or study without being constantly distracted by the pangs calling from their insides. It’s one small example of what Jesus demands of us. St. George’s has an outstanding record in that regard.

Individuals can make a difference. Manchester United soccer star Michael Rashford criticized the British government for a hard-hearted policy of ending school meals for hungry children during holidays. Public outcry led to reversal of the policy. 

The Reign of Christ isn’t about dogmas and creeds

Some time ago, John Spong was asked about whether you need to believe the church’s Creeds literally. He replied. “The criteria for entering the Kingdom of Heaven do not involve believing any creedal statement. They require whether you see the “Holy” in the faces of the least of humanity. The poor, the homeless, the hungry, the imprisoned and the sick.”

I like to think that St George’s also doesn’t focus too much on dogma or creed. You don’t have to believe a certain way to belong here. Because we cannot know God’s mind on questions of belief.

Jesus said that what we do or don’t do things to or for the least of his brothers and sisters, we do to him. On this Reign of Christ, we must do our best as individuals and as a parish bring the Kingdom of God a little closer by our actions . That’s much more pressing than worrying about who will end up in outer darkness at the end of the age.