Christ the King
On the last Sunday of the liturgical year we celebrate the feast of Christ, King of the universe. What that means for St Paul, he makes clear in the second reading today. It sounds like a litany: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, before all things, the head of the body, the church.” “Christ” is not the surname of Jesus, as people sometimes seem to think. St Paul speaks here of the ‘universal Christ’.
I would like to add a contemporary description that hints at what that lofty title can mean for us in concrete terms. The English twentieth century mystic Caryll Houselander describes in her autobiography “A Rocking-Horse Catholic” a sensation that happened to her while she was travelling on the underground in the evening. In a subway train, packed with people of all kinds, sitting, standing, hanging on the straps – workmen all on their way home at the end of a long working day. “Quite suddenly, she writes, I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. But I saw more than that; not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them – but because He was in them, and because they were here, the world was here too, here in this underground train; not only the world as it was at that moment, not only all the people in all the countries of the world, but all those people who had lived in the past, and all those yet to come”. Radical indwelling.
After a few days, that vision faded again. “Christ was hidden again,” she says, ” I would have to seek for Him, and usually I would find Him in others – and still more in myself- only through a deliberate and blind act of faith. “
I think this vision represents something that underlies what we are celebrating today. Christ, King of the universe.
Christ is not only Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish preacher who performed miracles, but something much more comprehensive, overarching, immeasurably vast, of cosmic magnitude and significance.
Christ as the name of the transcendent mystery that is contained in and sustains all that is.
Christ as the name of the vast open space of unconditional Love.
Christ as the infinite horizon that attracts us from within and drives us forward to the future.
That is also St Paul’s vision.
But in today’s gospel we see a completely different facet of that grand vista. There, at Golgotha, Place of the Skull, reverberates the deafening silence of God, a God wrapped in utter silence. And there also hangs the silent innocence, totally defenceless against inhuman and mindless violence. There too: Christ, King of the universe. A very disturbing picture. Supreme sovereign silence.
Or rather: there is a lot of chatter there at the Place of the Skull.
The religious leaders of Israel: they speak to Jesus about what matters most to him: saving people from their lostness. “He saved others. Let him save himself now, if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.”
The Roman soldiers agree: “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
It sounds very contemporary: Save yourself. No trace of transcendence, not the slightest thought of the ‘beyond within’, God. And to that chorus of self-reliance, a third voice is added, from one of the criminals hanging on the cross beside Jesus: “Are you not the Anointed of God? Save yourself and us.”
The second criminal is the first to bring up God: “Have you no fear of God?” Awe, a deep shudder at seeing an innocent human being killed in cold blood. “Jesus, think of me, when you come into your kingdom – the space where God is king.”
We hear five voices here.
And two which are silent: the people and God.
The people have already shouted in unison: “Crucify him.” Now they remain silent. Dead silent.
And God is silent too.
No miraculous intervention here. No “Deus ex machina“.
In no way does God get caught up in the conspiracy of evil that is taking place here outside of Jerusalem at the Place of the Skull.
A deafening silence in which the Christ, the Anointed of God, is swallowed up. A silence in which the innocence of Jesus speaks beyond words. The centurion sees it: “This man is innocent beyond doubt.”
Supreme sovereign silence, in which Christ reigns as King.
King with the almighty innocent power of self-giving love.
Fons Eppink mhm
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