Crucifixion, Tintoretto 1565, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice, Italy.
[Jesus said] “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.” Matthew 25: 31-32.
Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
Tintoretto’s Crucifixion pictured above, considered by many to be his greatest work, might seem a strange choice to celebrate Christ the King. It would seem to be the antithesis of Christ’s words in the gospel: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…” But take a close look. There seems to be an entire universe working away in the scene. There is hustle and bustle galore. We have Mary overcome by the scene at the foot of the cross, surrounded by Jesus’ friends (those brave enough to show up). We have the first thief’s cross in the course of being erected, and the second thief still waiting to be brutally nailed to his cross, the base for which seems to be being dug out by the man in the red jacket to the right of Jesus’ friends. There are grandly dressed individuals, men and women, who have come to witness the spectacle. You can see soldiers (albeit in medieval armor) in the bottom left corner, one of them pointing at the Lord. It is suggested that this is the legendary Longinus who drove the spear into the Lord’s side sometime later. There are others doing who knows what in various places. It is a maelstrom of activity and bustle, a universe, as it were, of life and death. And a universe is mentioned in the name of today’s solemnity, presided over by Jesus nailed to a cross. Looking at the activity, perhaps it is possible to see who are the sheep and who are the goats, mentioned in today’s gospel, but also the ones only God can judge. And all this, I might suggest, is closer to the ideal kingship of Christ.
The ceremony of crowning a king is called a coronation. Only one Christian coronation survives from medieval times, and, not surprisingly, it is in Britain. When Queen Elizabeth was crowned in 1953, it was, quite simply, spectacular from every point of view, a dazzling success of theatre, if you like. There were several key moments which I would like to mention, and it would be easier to understand if you have watched the video above. 1: The recognition of the sovereign as the nation’s “undoubted queen” by the assembly. Their response: “God save Queen Elizabeth”. 2: She was arrayed in regal garments, including one made of cloth of gold, the “Robe Royal”. 3: She was presented with the sceptre, a golden rod crowned with a spectacular diamond, a symbol of earthly power. 4: The actual crowning was when St. Edward’s Crown was placed on her head, a crown used exclusively at a coronation. 5: She was enthroned, crowned and carrying the symbols of sovereignty, was acknowledged as queen by all the high and mighty present. Now, each one of those steps was present in the passion and death of Jesus. Link the numbered events above to the numbers below this picture of the enthroned queen:
Queen Elizabeth Enthroned, Unofficial Royalty.
1: Jesus was presented to the crowd by Pilate who asked “What shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?” The response: “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:12-13).
2: Jesus was led away by the Roman soldiers who, all four gospels tell us, “clothed him in a purple cloak”, the imperial color of the Roman emperor, in order to mock him.
3: Matthew 27:29 tells us that the soldiers “put a reed in his right hand” and kneeled in front of him mocking him as the King of the Jews.
4: And, as we all know from Matthew, Mark and John, they also made a crown of thorns and thrust it on his head.
5: As you can see in the Tintoretto crucifixion above, this was the final display of utter weakness and degradation, Jesus on his throne, namely the cross itself, being mocked by the crowd “…if you’re the Son of God, come down from that cross….” (Matthew 27:40).
Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), il Cigoli 1607, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy.
So here we are, at the end of the church’s year, celebrating Christ the King, but here perhaps presented in a different light. Yes, Jesus was – and is – king of all. He had all power, but used it always for others, never, ever, for himself. The example he set stands through the centuries as one of total abasement, in complete obedience to his Father. His “coronation” was the culmination of utter obedience to his vocation as Messiah, the Anointed of God. And so, in this mirror opposite coronation, it came at the end of his mission, not at the beginning. This was in obedience to his Father as the Son of God. His vocation was to fulfill the Scriptural prophecies and promises of the Messiah revealed through the centuries. He was condemned to death because he refused to deny his identity and his vocation. The ultimate result, of course, was the defeat of the powers of evil, culminating in the conquest of death itself, so that at the name of Jesus, “every knee shall bow…” (Philippians 2:10). That is the message for all of us, called also to be the Anointed of God, to be Christ to the world, our vocation, in whatever way God has enabled us (see last week’s notes concerning talents). It is not an easy vocation, but as we see from Jesus’ suffering and death, complete faith in God will triumph no matter what. It is up to each of us to accept that truth, cling to that truth and live by that truth right to the end, no matter what that end might be, for we are truly the children of God, our precious identity. and we too must act in obedience as we embody our vocation as Christ to the world.
Christ the King, Comunidade Católica Pantokrator.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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