Thursday, November 21, 2013

The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

Christ the King – Year C

“Le Roi est mort.  Vive le Roi” “The king is dead; long live the king!” You may have heard of this expression which has its origins in the days France still had a monarchy. It was the ancient form of proclaiming the ascension of a new king to the throne, often mrobidly at the deathbed of his predecessor. It speaks of the instantaneous transfer of sovereignty from one monarch to his successor, upon the death of the former. I couldn’t help but notice some spiritual irony in this phrase. Usually they’re talking about two different people the deceased king and the one who is succeeding him on the throne.  But both phrases could be spoken of Jesus, the King of kings. One can further note the irony of juxtaposing ‘life’ with ‘death’.  But we Christians should have no problem appreciating this association. These two themes summarily express the teaching which is at the heart of Christianity, the Paschal Mystery. The King who dies on Good Friday, seemingly defeated by death, rises on Easter Sunday, after having vanquished his foe, His victory announces the resplendent dawn of eternal life!

This week is the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year. We continue to witness the juxtaposition of the themes of ‘life’ and ‘death.’ Each year begins liturgically with birth and ends with death. At the beginning of the liturgical year sits the beautiful Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas, the King is born. Today, being the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we witness the death of the King on the cross. But his death is really the culmination of his ascension to glorious throne of the universe. How could the ugly cross be mistaken for a majestic throne? Over the centuries, the cross as the symbol of our salvation has been fashioned not with a bloody corpus on a piece of ordinary wood but with jewels. Precious gems and gold spoke to the faithful of the victory Jesus had achieved over sin and death and of his reign as king of heaven and earth that had been established on the unlikely throne of the gibbet. Make no mistake that the precious ornamentation is not designed to hide and sanitised the horror of this instrument of torture and execution. The jewel encrusted and gold plated crosses that adorned our worship are meant to reveal and manifest its true meaning.

Today we are invited to stand at the foot of cross and witness this truth. By their portrayals of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion, the evangelists, especially Luke and John, underscored the fact that Jesus went to his death, not as a defeated victim but as victorious crown prince, not as the last act of sad dramatic tragedy but as the culminating scenario of a well planned love story. By means of the threefold taunt or mockery that comprises the heart of St Luke’s crucifixion scene, he highlights the saving power of Jesus on the cross. All three taunts provide us with different appellations for Jesus: that of the leaders, “…he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One;” the soldiers, “King of the Jews,” and finally the unrepentant criminal, “… the Christ?” By an ingenious twist of irony, St Luke has organised his narrative so that the enemies of Jesus are his very confessors and the theological interpreters of the saving event of his dying!

The plaque with the charge that hung above his head on the cross becomes the proclamation of his ascension, “This is the King of the Jews!” In Jesus, the charge of his ‘crime’ is a profession of faith and an act of allegiance in the Lord. Finally, in the dialogue with the repentant thief, the only one who recognised Jesus’ royal dignity, we see the final act of affirming his kingship. The good thief asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. He was looking to a future reign, but Jesus handed out the royal pardon immediately. Jesus was king even on the cross, welcoming people into his kingdom and not waiting until he was enthroned in glory. In this way Jesus shows that he is indeed a king, though he reigns from a bloody cross rather than from a majestic throne. In the story of Jesus, kingship is recast. The miracle lies in the fact that God shares the potential hopelessness of the human situation, but does so as king, as the source of our hope and life. Jesus took his wounds to heaven, and there is a place in heaven for our wounds because our king bears his in glory.

In addition to this beautiful message of the King’s solidarity with his subject, the context in of the institution of this feast by Pope Pius XI in 1925 should also be of special significance to us in these tumultuous times. Pope Pius connected the denial of Christ as king to the rise of secularism and authoritarianism. Pius XI witnessed humanistic ideologies and socio-economic and political solutions being portrayed as the new means of salvation in the world.  Ultimately, he witnessed a world, and especially governments growing increasingly hostile to religion. Just as the Feast of Corpus Christi was instituted when devotion to the Eucharist was at a low point, the Feast of Christ the King was instituted during a time when reverence for Christ’s and the Church’s authority was waning, when the feast was most needed. This feast is still much needed today as the problems have not vanished, but instead have worsened.

Pius hoped the institution of the feast would have various effects.
  1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas, 32).
  2.  That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas, 31).
  3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33).

Today, the power of the state continues to be used to curtail religious freedom, ironically often in the name of religious freedom, that is protecting the rights of those who may feel offended by our beliefs. We are witnessing the intolerance of tolerance. Governments and courts continue to issue laws and rulings that clearly contravene the authority of God and his laws. Authoritarianism often disguises itself as the dictate of the majority. On the other end of the spectrum, individualism has been embraced to such an extreme, that for many, the only authority is the individual self. The idea of Christ as ruler is rejected in such a strongly individualistic system. Modern man has no place for God. Modern man chooses to bow to not one except himself. More than ever, we are in need of this image of Christ the King.

In these difficult times, when our allegiance is being questioned because of our perceived obtuseness in refusing to obey clearly unjust conventions, legal rulings, policies enacted by those in authority, we need to restate once more that our citizenship is in Malaysia remains intact and firm, and we should continue to be patriotic and law-abiding citizens. But nevertheless, as Christians we need to remember and to remind others that our citizenship is also in Heaven. We must remember that we are first and foremost responsible to be law-abiding citizens of heaven and its laws. Government is not an invention of mankind. Governance is created by God. All authority comes not from man, but from God. Thus the laws enacted by such authority cannot be law unless they are in conformity with God’s laws. Christ Our Lord is our King. He is the King of all individuals and all nations. He is the final Judge, the Highest Court of Appeal, and he will ultimately come to Judge the living and the dead. Our duty to God and to our nation must thus be this - to serve the common good according to Christ’s law and not just the interest of some according to man’s dictates. Today, our voices must not just reach the rafters of the Church but must resound to the ends of the earth, Our King is not dead! He is risen! Long Live Christ the King!

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