November 21, 2016

Christ Our King


Happy Feast to all, and particularly to Chris! Such a wonderful feast, especially in the place it’s been given in the liturgical year since Vatican II. The liturgical year culminates in a celebration of that which is beyond time, the reign of God which endures forever.

So, if we are celebrating Jesus Christ as king, we need to have some conception of what a king is. Obviously, we’re talking in the language of analogy here: it’s not as if we’re to picture Christ as just an earthly king but raised to a higher power, doing the job perfectly. In fact, in 2 of the 3 years of the liturgical cycle the Gospel for the feast is taken from one of the Passion narratives – Luke this year, Cycle C, and John in Cycle B.

This year Christ the King concludes the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. We end this special year in company with the Good Thief on the cross, receiving the ultimate mercy at the very moment when the divine mercy is most threatened, about to be utterly vanquished by the forces of darkness and hate. This is one clear aspect of Christ’s kingship that is prominent in all four Gospels: whatever this kingship means, it’s not about earthly power; it doesn’t depend on display; and it’s so strong that no hate or darkness can overcome it.

So on the one hand we have this image of the divine king as utterly meek and lowly, not resisting power with power, showing his majesty in his willingness to suffer cruelty and dishonor out of love for God.

Yet on the other hand, much of the New Testament shows another side to Christ’s kingship, the side that emerges in the triumph over death and evil. One of the Old Testament verses that early Christians found very helpful in both expressing and exploring their experience of the Risen Lord was from Ps 8, “God has put all things under his feet.” This verse suggests that Christ’s kingship carries resonances of earthly kingship: exercising sovereignty over all, fulfilling the royal functions of governing, judging, protecting.

This analogy came naturally and easily to people in the first century. But it’s not so easy for us today. As wealth, education, and social complexity have increased, monarchy seems to be something enlightened societies leave behind. What does this do to our image of Christ as king? Do we believe that the kingdoms of the past are the best earthly approximation of what heaven will be like? Maybe this democracy stuff – very messy at times, after all – will get left behind? After all, there are no traces in the New Testament of heaven as a democracy.

Or is that true? I’ll come clean here: a few years ago I started collecting Scripture texts that show heaven as something other than an absolute monarchy; to put it another way, that show us sharing in Jesus’ reign and kingship. Not just as happy, docile subjects, but active participants. To give one of the most obvious examples 2 Tm 2,12 says, “If we endure, we shall also reign with him.” Most of the other texts (and I’ll leave a few copies of the collection) are along this line – we inherit the kingdom along with Jesus; he makes us his co-workers. In other words, it is the whole Christ who reigns, head and members. Jesus wants to share everything with us – his glory, his majesty, his love for the Father.

In C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, Eustace and Jill, along with their friend Puddleglum, set out to rescue the prince of Narnia who had disappeared 10 years earlier. Prince Rilian’s father, Caspian, was a good friend of Eustace when Caspian was a young king in the health of early manhood. Now he is quite aged, and sadly, by the time the prince returns to his father, Caspian is on his deathbed, and dies only minutes later. As the two children stand on the sidelines with aching hearts, Aslan comes to take them home. But their trip home is very strange. The funeral music continues and the king’s dead body comes along too as the children float back to the in-between world they had entered en route to Narnia. When they get there, Caspian is restored to life – but to new life, his resurrected life. As Aslan prepares to take the children to their own world, Caspian says “I’ve always wanted to have just one glimpse of their world. Is that wrong?”
            “You cannot want wrong things any more” Aslan tells him.

This is the prerequisite for our reigning with Jesus. In the kingdom of God, all our creativity and freedom will be set free, because we will have lost that miserable ability to choose and to want in opposition to God. Now all our wants and abilities will be permeated by the love and designs of God. This is to reign with Christ. We cannot want wrong things any more.

The majesty and glory and immensity of Jesus Christ, risen and reigning, are unique and incomparable, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. Augustine says that in heaven we will rest and see, see and love, love and praise – and this will be our activity forever. Charles Wesley similarly speaks of our being “lost in wonder, awe and praise.” Adoration is our joy.

But this doesn’t mean that we are just marionettes in the hands of a divine puppeteer, devoid of all real agency. No, we will reign with Christ. Think of the billions of people who we hope will all be in heaven, each of us with our own unique contribution to make, our own unique ideas and plans and wants, but all in total harmony with God’s and with one another’s.

Jesus is the unique divine Son – but the Father has given him the amazing gift of being Savior, that is, of being allowed to share everything that is his, with all his brothers and sisters. And what joy it must give him to do so! Our King is the king of love, never so happy as when honoring us, allowing our sanctified desires and dreams to reign along with his.

We inherit the kingdom along with Jesus, because our God had this wild and crazy idea to create beings with real freedom, a freedom that will be eternal, enfolded forever in the safety of genuine love and self-giving.

Today is Jesus’ feast; but it is also our feast. Our life is a school where we start to learn what true kingship is. Our joy today is to praise and love our king, to be filled with hope for the coming of his kingdom.

Rev 22,5   And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.

And God will be all in all.