Hans Memling, Christ Surrounded by Musician Angels (detail), 1480s
Here is my homily for the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
Today the Church celebrates its last feast of the liturgical year – the Feast of Christ, King of the Universe. Kingship and kingly imagery is perhaps not something that we’re very familiar with in this day and age and in this part of the world – perhaps it feels to us as though it belongs more to another place and time, faraway from 21st century America.
And yet, it is for that reason that this idea of the kingship of Christ is all the more important for us. In the medieval mindset, the king was much more than a ruler or a monarch. He was – or was intended to be – an image of the ideal man, the one chosen by God to rule in his own place, the one who was divinely appointed to be the very definition of life for his subjects. The king was the everyman, the advocate of all, the servant of all.
And yet, as we know, earthly kings very often fell far short of such a standard. Earthly kingship came to be corrupted by self-interest, greed, and ultimately exploitation and subjugation of the very people the king had been charged to serve. Kings and monarchical rule are precisely what our founding fathers sought to flee, because their image of them had been so corrupted as to become nothing other than a negative one.
In Jesus, however, we see a different image of kingship – indeed, in the Gospel reading today, we see the image of the true king of the universe. Christianity, as you know, is full of paradoxes, and perhaps there is none greater than to claim that a man who is broken, bleeding, and suffering a humiliatingly public death is our king, the king of our hearts and the king of the universe.
And yet that’s precisely what we do say. We make that claim with conviction and with pride and with faith, because we know that for our king, the Cross is not a defeat, it is indeed the battlefield of his greatest victory, it is his very throne. On the Cross, our king reveals for us just how far removed he is from earthly kings – from self-interest, greed, exploitation and subjugation. This Jesus – who Paul tells us is the very image of the invisible God, the one through whom and for whom all things were created, through whom all things hold together – now suffers for us the ignoble death that is the result of our sins. He proves with the very shedding of his blood how he is our advocate, how he has come to fulfill the divine purpose of saving us from our mortal enemy of sin.
“He saved others, let him save himself”, sneered the crowd. With the eyes of faith, we know that Jesus could have come down from that cross; he could have chosen to show all who were watching in that moment the fullness of his glory. And yet Jesus chose not to save himself, because his work of saving others was not yet complete. He saves the repentant thief, to whom he gives the promise of paradise. And he saves the whole world, you and I and all who believe in him by faith, we who would have no salvation if not for that bloody Cross. Jesus suffered death that we might share the glory that he now has, the glorious Resurrection that lasts forever.
Jesus is indeed our king, and now he reigns forever in glory. His kingdom is not of this world, as we know, and so his kingship does not mean we will not avoid sufferings and pains in the here and now; yet, on the Cross he shows us how we can bear those with hope, with the firm faith that we are working out our own salvation, that we are drawing ever closer to sharing in his glorious kingdom.
Jesus, our King, on the throne of his Cross, knew the name of each and every one of us, and he died for us purposefully, willingly, with great love. Now he reigns forever in glory, inviting by name each of us to share in his kingly majesty. In a few moments, he will humble himself again, coming before us in the form of bread and wine, nourishing us with his very life so that we might endure the present and march onward to our final victory. Let us choose again today, in a purposeful way, to answer the call of our king, to respond to the grace he gives to us by choosing to be again his loyal subject. Let us strive to live out now the defining marks of his kingship, his Cross and his Resurrection, now so that when he returns in glory we might have a share in his final victory, “to be with our king forever in Paradise.”