If you spend much time in liturgical churches, you will no doubt see the three letters at the center of the cross in the above picture. IHS is a Latin-scripted contracted version of the all-capitalized Greek rendering of Jesus IHΣΟΥΣ, which is to say, all IHS really means, historically is the first three letters of the name Jesus. Over time, and especially after the Protestant Reformation cut off most Church history prior to 1617, the meaning of many symbols morphed into something else or disappeared all together, such that for many American Christians IHS means “In His Service.”
This is, of course, not inherently a bad thing. To have Christians living by a motto like “In His Service” could prove fruitful in a world hell-bent on the service of self, and what better time to consider our service of Jesus than on the Last Sunday after Pentecost, which in many Episcopal Churches is called “Christ the King.” The Gospel lesson appointed for Year A is comprised of Jesus’ final image of the eschaton. I would title it “the sheep and the goats,” but after twenty minutes for frantic searching during my General Ordination Exams, I now know that the HarperCollins Study Bible calls it “The Judgement of the Gentiles,” even though Gentiles aren’t mentioned in it once. (The digressions are coming fast and furious this Monday, please accept my apologies.)
In this vision of the final judgment, Jesus offers as clear a statement on what is expected of his followers. I’m thankful to my friend, Evan Garner, for reminding me of the context of all of Jesus’ teaching on the End Times. “These three judgment parables are not spoken to the crowds or to Jesus’ opponents but to Jesus’ closest friends. They already know what it means to belong to God as God’s beloved children. He’s not telling them what it takes to get into the kingdom of God. He’s inviting them to see what is required to live within that kingdom.” We, who follow in the Apostolic Tradition, should read these words similarly. This isn’t a judgment upon those who do not know Jesus, but a clear testimony of what life should look like for those who claim Jesus as Lord.
Our lives are best lived in the service of the King. IHS might not have always meant “In His Service,” but it is a helpful reminder that our proper response tot he love of God is to reach out in loving service to those he came to save. We who are bold enough to claim a place in the Kingdom of God bring honor to the King when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, take care of the sick, and visit the incarcerated. When, at the end, it comes time to determine whose lives were lived in allegiance to the King of kings, our service of the King will be the opportunity for judgment.