Thanksgiving is barely past, although I would bet there are still leftovers, especially if your family had several turkey dinners between Thursday and Sunday to accommodate the needs of the modern families most of us live in. In the U.S. Thanksgiving has something to do with pilgrims, that is, the Pilgrim Church that thought the Church of England (that is us) had so strayed from Christianity that they could no longer stand it. No, we are not going there. That is history and theology, and this is about food. In any case, Thanksgiving or Harvest Festival is an old way of giving thanks for a decent harvest. Without a decent harvest people died. They didn’t trot off to Whole Foods or Safeway to get produce and meat from somewhere else. There was nowhere else, unless you were very rich and/or very lucky. So harvest was important. In England sometime in September local churches were decorated with woodsy things and the altar was surrounded with produce. In Canada Thanksgiving is held in October. I suspect climate has something do to with this. In the U.S. it occurs in late November. Why? Because that kicks off the Christmas feeding frenzy at the nation’s malls. And now Black Friday has added to the mayhem.
Sunday was Christ the King. In the first reading Ezekiel 34 talks of gathering the scattered sheep of Israel and leading them to fine pasture. But then it says that the fat sheep will be culled. They got fat by running the skinny and weak off from the best food. The shepherd will gather them and slaughter them, and care for the weak so they are made strong. We know that Good Shepherd, the one who knows his sheep, protects them, seeks for them when they are lost.
From the Gospel of Matthew, starting at verse 25:31, Jesus says, “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,” Then Jesus appears to recapitulate the Beatitudes, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the unfortunate. But then he says, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Is the family those who have received his word and lived by his teaching, having faith in him as the Son of God? And are the others to be cast away? Gnashing of teeth time. If so then we also must ask why the goat people couldn’t see Jesus in the poor, the needy? It is not hidden. Pride? Power?
Goats are smarter than sheep. A Judas goat is used to drive sheep to slaughter.. But like the fat sheep from Ezekiel, that very power over the Shepherd’s flock may be why they will be culled in the last days. Are we being told not to be a goat and lead the sheep astray, or a fat sheep, bullying the others to starvation? Follow the Shepherd in humility.
The preparation for the First Coming of Christ starts next week. A month long reminder not only of the babe in the manger, but the thing we don’t often talk about, the Second Coming, the Day of Judgment. If we refer back to Matthew 24, starting at verse 27, Jesus, who is facing betrayal and death, is pointing to the parousia, the Second Coming of the risen Christ. In Sunday’s passage Jesus says that when the Son of Man comes in Glory he will sit on the judgment throne as King of kings, and we will be sorted, possibly culled.
Back when my internalization of the Crucifixion was growing, I was much more comfortable with the crucifix in my church that had a robed king for the corpus. It takes some time to really get crucifixion, unless you live in a war zone or watch CNN a lot. I got the King of Glory, and I loved him, and feared him, and served him. His gracious power protected and fed me.
I know the Suffering Servant better now. It comes not only with prayer and study, but life. That King on the cross is now one who suffered for me, who weeps in compassion for me, and heals me, and you, and all of us. Not less a king. A true king serves the people. A true king is not a despot or tyrant. A true king is merciful, compassionate, loving. That is now my Christ the King, at the same time the bloody and broken sacrifice and the enthroned sovereign bathed in Glory.
Even if Thanksgiving is too late for a real harvest, and has been turned into a commercial ploy, it is still a time of abundance, a groaning table. And the Table at the altar is not only a gift of the Presence of Christ. It is also a feast, one who continues in our Christ-fed lives into the kitchen, and to the family table. Christ the King, the Lord of all, who no longer thirsts as on the cross, but gives us food and drink and eternal life, that King reminds us to share what we have been given.
Not everybody is going to find a spot in a kitchen at a homeless shelter, and that is all right. We only need to remember whom the Kingdom belongs to, and that our King wants to gather us up, all the sheep of his pasture. Perhaps the hungry and homeless, but perhaps our parish family and our own family. We need to reverence the Christ in them, and feed them with the food of care and compassion. Advent is upon us, and the preparation for the coming of the incarnate Christ. But we are also called to remember the Second Coming, and be ready by embracing the Holy Spirit in all of his family. In the dark of night, the Light of the World is coming.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.