Christ Pantocrator (Χριστὸς Παντοκράτωρ), Christ Ruler of All, Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, Monreale, Sicily, Italy.
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Luke 23:35.
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The church’s year concludes with the grandest possible appellation of the Lord, but with a gospel placing us at the scene of his greatest ignominy, crucified as if a common criminal, with taunts and insults being thrown at him. An extreme, the extreme, paradox in the life and mission of Jesus. In 2018 I wrote a reflection on this day which applies to this feast in a way I don’t think I can better, (but with a few extra thoughts). Forgive me if this disappoints:
Today concludes the Church’s year with the bold statement that Jesus is the sovereign king of everything that exists. Established by Pope Pius XI in 1925, and long celebrated on the last Sunday in October, it was moved to its present date in 1970 and as such represents the culmination of Christian belief in Jesus the Christ, the Anointed of God, as the one, true Lord of All. Please note also that many non-Catholic Christian churches have also adopted and celebrate this modern feast on this day. Now the idea of kingship might be considered a little anachronistic today. In the USA it might even been seen as destructive to the idea of equality under the law; wasn’t King George unceremoniously banished by the American colonists in 1776? So the idea of Christ the King has to be separated from traditional ideas of crown and monarch. In other words we are not talking about some lucky soul who, simply by right of birth, becomes the head of state for no other reason. Jesus was indeed Son, but here we have a king born into poverty and a family of modest means, expected to earn his keep as a carpenter, but who acknowledged his divine vocation as Messiah, for which he was eventually brutally executed. Hardly a regal existence! Here we have a kingship radically different from any other, certainly not of this world.
To continue the parallel, consider Jesus’ passion and death: 1: He was accused of being a king and denounced by a mob which cried “Crucify him” (Matthew 27:22). (In the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, she was presented to the congregation assembled as their queen, to which the crowd responded “God save Queen Elizabeth”). 2: The Roman soldiers placed a reed in Jesus’ right hand, representing a sceptre, a symbol of kingly power (Mt. 27:29). (In the coronation, the Archbishop of Canterbury presented the Queen with the Sceptre with the Cross, saying “Receive the Royal Sceptre, the ensign of kingly power and justice”). 3: The Roman soldiers also placed a scarlet robe on him in mockery, that being close to the imperial purple worn by the Roman emperor (Mt. 27:28). (In the coronation after her anointing, the Queen was clothed in “the Colobium Sindonis and the Robe Royal or Close Pall of cloth of gold prior to her crowning, the Archbishop saying “Receive this Imperial Robe, and the Lord your God endue you with knowledge and wisdom, with majesty and with power from on high…”. 4: Mt. 27:29 states the Roman soldiers made “a crown of thorns and they put it on his head…” Then they mocked him saying “Hail King of the Jews!”. (In the coronation, the Archbishop took St. Edward’s Crown and reverently placed it upon the Queen’s head, at the sight whereof the people, with loud and repeated shouts cried: “God Save the Queen”). 5: At that point, the Roman soldiers stripped Jesus of the robe and led him away to crucify him. The cross then became his throne, as the people mocked him with “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself”, today’s gospel. (In the coronation, the Queen, wearing her crown, stood and walked to her Throne, and the spiritual and temporal nobles paid homage and expressed loyalty to her). So we can see that Jesus’ passion was, indeed, his coronation as King. The parallelism with the ancient coronation service is just about perfect, almost as if the Passion of Our Lord was taken as the mirror opposite model for the occasion. But this king was as utterly different from the regal pomp and majesty of an earthly king as it is possible to be. Here was a king who washed the feet of this friends, forgave his murderers, tended to the poor and powerless and preached a kingdom of love and eternal happiness.
So today sees the culmination of the church year, focusing on the central figure of Jesus at his most vulnerable yet most powerful. This king knows suffering, failure, bitter disappointment and persecution to the moment of agonizing and brutal death. This king was crowned with pain and degradation. His triumphant throne was the wood onto which he was nailed. His coronation was a scene of squalor and humiliation. And yet, three days later, his true kingdom and crown were revealed in triumph, when death, pain and inhumanity became life, happiness and grace, the presence of God. So whatever our own circumstances, clearly this whole event gives us hope and an assurance that, as true followers of this truest of all kings, we his faithful servants, will in the end assuredly stand with him in eternal happiness no matter our own pain and distress.
And so ends our liturgical year. Next Sunday begins Advent, and the whole mystical, life-saving, uplifting and inspiring story begins once again. Amen, Alleluia!
Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), Jose Luis Castrillo n.d.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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