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Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King

The Word This Week

“Shepherd-King o’er mountain steep, homeward guide thy wand’ring sheep.” This hymn which we will probably sing today captures the readings perfectly: our King is not a cruel tyrant or despot, but a shepherd who loves his flock, who would (and did) give his life for them. Love for the flock means that he will have to judge them, separating the sheep from those who do not belong to him. Coming to the end of the Church’s year leads us to look to our final ending, the homecoming the hymn speaks of. The judgement of the end of time we do not view as a trial or a terror, but as a coming home: look back to the Isaiah reading on the 28th Sunday to see what a homecoming party is offered. All we do is put our lives in order, living just and holy lives, longing for the day of the lord to come.

Notes for Readers

First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-12.15-17.

The image of the shepherd is one of the most enduring in the Bible: this is not the Western shepherd, using dogs and pens to force the sheep where he wants them, but the Eastern shepherd, who leads his flock alone, spending all his days and nights with them, devoting the whole of his life to being with the flock he loves. Interesting to note about this reading is the number of times God says ‘I’; the use of that pronoun emphasises that this is a personal relationship - God will put himself out on our behalf, to keep us safe and free from harm. Use tenderness and warmth throughout this reading - even at the end, with the mention of judgement, because judgement too is born of love.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:20-26.28.

A graphic description of the end of time: after a prologue, talking about Christ as the first-fruits, Paul goes on to describe the order of resurrection: Christ will hand over the Kingdom to the Father, as supreme King over all, even death. This is a clear and fairly easy reading - not that it should be read with anything less than the usual attention and care. The passage develops a logical argument: run over it in your own mind (even try writing your own paraphrase of the reading), and then develop that logical progression to those who are listening, using Paul’s words. The whole reading builds up, in a sense, to the vision of what the end will contain, expressed in the last eight words - aim for them throughout the whole reading: ‘so that God may be all in all’ -  surely the best expression with which to end another liturgical year!