Sunday, November 22, 2009

Last Sunday of the Church Year

Today marks the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year, celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King in Roman Catholic liturgy. In Pastor Nathan's sermon this morning at Lake Murray, he mentioned "Christ the King" at least twice as he preached on the Davidic Covenant and its relation to the Book of Revelation, which may just have been coincidence, but... ?

I read a little about this special Sunday at in which it reads:
Christ the King Sunday celebrates the all-embracing authority of Christ as King and Lord of the cosmos. Officially called the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, it is celebrated on the final Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Sunday before Advent. This year it falls on November 22, 2009.

Basic Facts
Liturgical Color(s): White
Type of Holiday: Solemnity; Holy Day of Obligation
Time of Year: Final Sunday of Ordinary Time (Sunday before Advent)
Duration: One Sunday
Celebrates/Symbolizes: Jesus as King, Messiah, and Lord
Alternate Names: Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
Scriptural References: Psalm 23; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

The earliest Christians identified Jesus with the predicted Messiah of the Jews. The Jewish word "messiah," and the Greek word "Christ," both mean "anointed one," and came to refer to the expected king who would deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans. Christians believe that Jesus is this expected Messiah. Unlike the messiah most Jews expected, Jesus came to free all people, Jew and Gentile, and he did not come to free them from the Romans, but from sin and death. Thus the king of the Jews, and of the cosmos, does not rule over a kingdom of this world.

Christians have long celebrated Jesus as Christ, and his reign as King is celebrated to some degree in Advent (when Christians wait for his second coming in glory), Christmas (when "born this day is the King of the Jews"), Holy Week (when Christ is the Crucified King), Easter (when Jesus is resurrected in power and glory), and the Ascension (when Jesus returns to the glory he had with the Father before the world was created). However, [Pope] Pius XI wanted to specifically commemorate Christ as king, and instituted the feast in the Western calendar in 1925.

In the 21st century many Western Christians, Catholic and Protestant, celebrate Christ the King Sunday, including Anglicans and Lutherans. Unfortunately, in some mainline Protestant churches, "king" language is not popular, and the feast is downplayed. However, in a chaotic and unjust world that seems to scorn any kind of authority, many Christians proudly celebrate Christ the King Sunday, where the loving and merciful - and just - king of the universe is praised and glorified.
In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, The Feast of Christ the King is celebrated on the final Sunday in October, and the last Sunday of the Church Year is simply called "The Sunday Next Before Advent." On this last Sunday of the Liturgical Year, the following Propers are used. (Propers are the Collect, the Epistle, and the Gospel used in worship each Sunday of the Church Year and thus prayed and read in services for the week following.) So the following Collect was prayed and Scriptures were read aloud on this final Sunday of this Church Year:

The Collect
STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle
Jeremiah xxiii. 5.
BEHOLD, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.

The Gospel
St. John vi. 5.
WHEN Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.
So as this Church Year closes, Advent will commence this next Sunday, November 29. Advent is definitely one of my favorite seasons, second only to Lent/Holy Week. In a way, I prefer Advent over Christmas because the focus is entirely on Christ and not on the gifts, rushing around, and hype that our American culture tends to focus upon each December, rather than the joy of the birth of Our Lord. Advent is a time of waiting, a time of anticipation not only for the celebration of Christ's birth but also for Him to "come again with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end" (Nicene Creed). And, as Pastor Nathan closed our service at Lake Murray today with almost the last words of the Bible in Revelation 22, "'Surely I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" Yes, come, Lord Jesus, our Saviour and King!

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