This weekend marks the end of the Church’s year. Most of the world celebrates the year-end on the 31st December, but the Christian Church sees the season of Advent as introducing a whole new momentum in our lives, and the prayers and readings reflect a renewed sense of renewal and rebirth, coming as it does after the rather gloomy month of November, with its emphasis on death and decay.
The end of the Church’s year is always celebrated as the feast of Christ the King. Canada does not have much historical experience of living under monarchical power, but, coming from England as I do, this is something I am very familiar with. Kings and queens have been part of British history for centuries upon centuries. Monarchs have come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, some have been good, but most have been autocratic, arrogant and venal. But in the feast we celebrate this Sunday, we have a very different kind of king, bringing in a very different kind of kingdom. It is, to quote the Preface for this Sunday’s Mass, “an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”
The gospel passage this Sunday shows a Jesus, supposedly King of the Jews, being roundly abused and mocked by the very people he claims to rule over, as he hangs, a pitiful sight, in his dying agony on the cross. And yet there is something totally splendid and majestic in the way he extends to the supplicant criminal beside him the promise of sharing Paradise with him “this day.” There is something here that mockery and torture and abuse cannot touch, a kingly authority which transcends the limitations and cruelty of the moment and which will lead the Roman centurion, a pagan, to kneel before the crucified king and declare “In truth, this is the Son of God!!“
Can we perceive, shining through the pathos and humiliation of the crucifixion scene, a king reigning in all his glory?