Nov 19, 2016

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe - Cross and King

"Today, you will be with me in Paradise"

The Word for Sunday:

2 Sam 5: 1-3
Col 1: 12-20
Lk 23: 35-43

This coming Tuesday we commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the tragic events in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.  The untimely death of President John Kennedy shook the Nation and the World in a way that only those who remember that day could recall.  We all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the shocking news that the President of the United States had been assassinated. 

Let’s face it; America and much of the world was enamored with this man, only in his 40’s, and with his wealthy and influential Irish Catholic family.  His beautiful wife Jacqueline was seen as an almost fairy tale Queen and President Kennedy and his family was likely the closest we have ever come to the appearance of a royal family in this Country.  In fact, his term was referred to as “Camelot” at one point. On his death everything from auto freeways, airports, buildings, and fine art centers were being named after him. When he died, many felt in some circles as if the “King” was killed.  

This Sunday we hear of the death of another very different type of King in our Gospel.  His death was brutal and tragic as well.  Many of his followers found themselves disillusioned and confused about their future. He died in great physical pain and humiliation not in an open air limousine but on a cross a sign of ancient torture for the most hardened of criminals.  Yet, he was not a criminal and was rather the most innocent of men. 

Jesus on the cross today may confuse us with the much grander title of this end of the liturgical year Feast: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. In our Gospel this Sunday from Luke we don’t see a royal image of privilege and power. This King on a cross drastically transformed his “throne” from a frightening instrument of torture to the sign of forgiveness and reconciliation.

We see his cross on our Churches, around our necks, on walls in our homes, dangling from Rosaries, over car rear view mirrors, on shirts and jackets.  I recall one time hearing a little boy enter a Church, see the cross behind the altar and said to his mother, “Look, Jesus on a T!” 

The point is that we are so accustomed to seeing the cross, and for us Catholics more specifically a crucifix with the body of Jesus hanging in death, that we view it as a piece of religious art.  We say that a carved wooden crucifix is “beautiful” or “inspiring.” The point is that we are so accustomed to seeing larger than life size depictions of the execution of Jesus that we are not at all repelled by it. 

However, if we lived in the first century of Christianity, we would find the image of a cross as horrible and frightening; as shameful and not at all how we would want to imagine our Lord.  Those early Christians were very familiar with the abhorrent style of execution by the Romans that it was the last image they wanted to be reminded of. Blood thirsty Roman Emperors such as Nero delighted in crucifying slaves, criminals and Christians, so they wanted nothing of it in their new Way with Jesus, only to see it at as a tragic end overshadowed by the glory of the resurrection.  

Imagine, then, Christianity without a cross. However, in the fourth century the cross triumphed and Emperor Constantine, after seeing a cross in the sky, abolished this inhumane torture and established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.  The rest is history as they say.

Our first reading from the Book of Samuel speaks of a King David, the greatest of all ancient Israel and the forerunner of the family of the Messiah.  David was anything but perfect.  He was, at one point, an adulterer and murderer but God called him “to shepherd my people Israel.” David had a gold crown; Jesus wears a crown of thorns.  David had a royal throne but Jesus had the seat of a cross. 

So, how is Jesus our King? In our Gospel this Sunday, Luke 23: 35 – 43, we see a “King” of compassion, mercy and forgiveness who hung shamefully out of love for all humanity.  The forgiveness extended to the criminal hanging next to Jesus is legendary.  The criminal says: “. . . the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes. But this man has done nothing criminal. Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

God rules over his creation, his universe as the feast titles today, with benevolence.  His power is that of self-sacrifice, love, mercy, and peace.  Jesus our King came not to set up some earthly new country but to establish his Kingdom in the hearts and minds of humanity.  Each one of us is invited to accept citizenship through our embrace of his Gospel call to personal conversion. It is not a power limited by time and space by geography or nation.  His spiritual power extends, like it was offered to the guilty beside him, in response to a plea for forgiveness.

As we celebrate his royal feast this Sunday, his Eucharist banquet, we are invited to receive all that he has given us and continues to pour out: his sacred Word, a blueprint for right living, and his holy Body and Blood, sacrificed for our salvation and food for this journey towards eternal life.   

As we prepare for this Sunday and the coming annual season of Advent, how accepting am I of this King, servant, God of compassion and mercy?  How willing am I to accept responsibility for my own personal sin and bring it to the cross of Christ?  Do I hear his call to conversion and am I willing to turn my life around, or that part of my life that still needs conversion, to embrace the way of the Gospel? 

Like any ruler Jesus seeks our loyalty. Through that loyalty, God took David, an adulterer and a murderer, and used his talents and his changed heart to bring about great good.  Jesus offered salvation to the thief who repented on the cross beside him.  He would never do anything less for us.  

As the second reading from Colossians reminds us: "He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

"He might present to the immensity of your majesty
an eternal and universal kingdom,
a kingdom of truth and life, 
a kingdom of holiness and grace, 
a kingdom of justice, love and peace. 

(From Preface of Solemnity)