The Solemnity of Christ the King: Commitment to the King
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, the conclusion of the Church year. This is a feast rich in theology and spirituality. The first reading from Daniel focuses in on the witnesses to the Kingdom. The Gospel reading from John presents the Kingdom of Truth.
I would like to focus on the second reading from the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse. This reading come from the introduction of Revelation. The visionary John offers grace and peace from God who is, who was and who is to come. Then he exclaims that this grace and peace also comes from Jesus Christ, who is the Faithful Witness, the First Born of the Dead and the Ruler of all the Kings of the earth. He is the one who loves us, who has taken away our sins with His blood and who has made us a royal house of priests of God the Father.
Those phrases are packed with meaning and application for us. First of all, Jesus is the Faithful Witness. He stood before the Jewish Sanhedrin and proclaimed that He was the Messiah. He stood before the Roman authority, Pontius Pilate, and proclaimed the Truth that He, Jesus, was the King. Revelations was written to encourage the Christians of the ancient Roman Empire to stand up in front of persecution and give witness to Jesus Christ even if they are putting their lives in danger. It was written to encourage us to stand for the truth, even when the truth not popular or is scorned by the ultra liberal members of our society, such as standing against abortion, against embryonic stem cell research, against human cloning, against redefining marriage eliminating gender, and the next step, redefining marriage by eliminating the number of wives or husbands a person can have. But more subtle than that, Revelations is encouraging us to stand up for the truth when our personal advancement is jeopardized, such as, perhaps for you, standing up against unethical business practices within the company you work for, or standing up against the character assassination of someone you work with whose job would then be available for you, or perhaps for me, standing up against the watering down of the faith. “But why should I suffer when everybody else is advancing by these normal business practices? This is the way of the world.” The answer is simple: there is nothing normal for a person created in the image and likeness of God to reject his or her spiritual essence for the sake of momentary and monetary gain. The early witnesses were told in Revelation and throughout the Christian writings, “By patient endurance you will survive.” It is infinitely better for us to suffer the injustice of the world than for us to reject our call to stand as witnesses of the God of Truth. Jesus, the Faithful Witness is our model, our guide and our strength.
This Faithful Witness is the Firstborn of the Dead. A world that has rejected its Creator, its Source of Life, is dead. The dead world seeks to find life in materialism and selfish pleasures, but its life is meaningless. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Old Testament scribe, Qoheleth, “All is vanity. What does a man gain for all his toil? A generation goes, a generation comes, but all remains the same.” This is the basis of existential angst. “If all that we treasure is the physical, even if our hope in Christ is only for the here and now, we are the most pitiable of men,” St. Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15. But Christ has been raised from the dead in His human nature and is thus the first of the new world of God. Our hope is in the gift of the spiritual that we have received through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We live in this world but not for this world. We live for Jesus Christ. His Kingdom is not of this world, as He told Pilate.
He is the Ruler of all the Kings of the earth. Revelations was written at a time that there appeared to be only one ruler in the world, Caesar. The early Christians were told that Jesus is infinitely more powerful than the great emperor. We know this when we apply this to our own time, but somehow we still stand in awe of a select group of human beings who have been given or who have seized political authority. The President of the United States and his cabinet, the members of the Houses of Congress, the Justices of the Supreme Court, the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Presidents of France and Italy, etc. etc. are merely fragile, limited people like you and like me. I fear that we give them too much credibility and toss the word great around all too easily. The only one who is truly great, the only one who has real authority, is Jesus Christ.
And He has called us to be great with Him. He has made us royal, a royal house of priests. A priest brings God to others and others to God. He is a bridge, or to use the ancient Latin, a pontifex. We are given the ability to bring others to Him and to make His Presence a reality for others. We are priests. We share in His greatness. We share in His authority. We share in His kingship. This Christianity we profess is not just a membership in an organization. As Christians we share in the life, the authority and the mission of the King of Kings. We have meaning, and purpose and beauty in our lives because Jesus is our reason for being whom we are, His people.
All this is from just a few lines of our second reading. For me, the most important part of that reading is what comes next. It is the simple phrase: “He loves us.” “To Him who loves us and has forgiven our sins with His own blood.” That is the phrase that throws me for a spiritual loop. It is not “He loved us” way back, 2000 years ago when He died for us. It is not “He will love us” if we do this or that, but it is, “He loves us.” Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, loves you and loves me right here and right now.
The reading speaks about Jesus returning on the clouds and how all people will wail seeing what has happened to Him. There are two groups of people wailing. There are those who have rejected Him and fear for their future, and there are those who wail because they have seen what their sins did to the One who loves us. We are in that second group. Tim Hughes wrote, “I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sins upon that cross.” It is easy for us to say that Christ died for sins, and think deep within ourselves that those sins He died for were really the sins of others, not mine. No, He died for your sins, and He died for my sins. And He did this willingly because He loves us.
And He calls us to commitment. Now! Now, in the every moment now of existence. He calls us to be committed to His Kingdom. He calls us to be committed to Him, “the Alpha and the Omega, the Lord God who is, who was and who is to come, the Almighty,” the King of Kings.