Luke 23:35-43, Solemnity of Christ the King
Kings have become rare in today’s world. Usually they are only figureheads while a Prime Minister is in charge of the politics of the Kingdom. But even Prime Ministers and Presidents come and go. We have just this year elected a new President, and who still speaks of the last one? America has elected a new President and even before taking office he is controversial. Kings, Prime Ministers, and Presidents just come and go. They don’t sit anymore on golden thrones – as Christ the King in today’s Gospel passage where we are gazing at the central moment of human history: Jesus Christ being crucified on the hill of Calvary.From one perspective, it is a disastrous event. It shows mankind rejecting and destroying its creator, savior and God. And yet, today is the day when the whole Church, throughout the entire world, celebrates Christ’s universal Kingship.Aren’t kings supposed to be powerful? Aren’t kings supposed to be successful? Aren’t kings supposed to be victorious? So why are we staring at a dying, helpless man hanging from a cross?We have already hinted at the answer to these questions. The cross is our King’s temporary throne – Christ also reigns not from velvet-covered, diamond-encrusted, gold-plated seats, like passing earthly kings, rather, he reigns from the cross.How can this sign of utter defeat also be the sign of our King’s everlasting victory? This is what Pope John Paul II called the “paradox” of Christ’s Kingship. Christ’s Kingdom begins in this world, but it is not of this world. It begins in the hearts of Christians like us, his followers, who believe in him and obey him. The Church and the saints are living signs of this Kingdom, as buds in springtime are signs of summer.And so, since his Kingdom transcends this world, it makes sense that Christ’s throne is different from earthly thrones. Christ’s Kingdom is built on the unconquerable power of God’s unconditional love for each one of us. On the cross Jesus reveals that love by suffering and dying for our salvation, even while we were still sinners. In theResurrection he will reveal that unconquerable power. And that’s why our King reigns from such a throne.Even those who have never been in Rome know from photos and from the TV that in St Peter’s Square there stands an ancient Egyptian obelisk – a single block of marble almost 100 feet high, weighing 330 tons.The obelisk was originally erected around the year 1850 BC as a monument to thePharaoh of Egypt. At the time of Christ, after Rome had conquered Egypt, the Roman Emperor Caligula brought the obelisk to Rome as a sign of Rome’s superiority to Egypt. Centuries later, when the barbarians invaded Rome and the city fell into disrepair, the obelisk fell. Ivy grew around it. It was half-buried near the old Basilica of St Peter.But the Church converted the barbarians, and when a new Christian culture emerged and flourished, and St Peter’s Basilica was rebuilt and expanded, Pope Sixtus V had the obelisk erected in the center of St Peter’s Square, where it still stands today.No longer is it a reminder of the long-perished empires of Egypt and Rome and the barbarians. Now it has been put at the service of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Now it is topped with a bronze cross, and inside that bronze cross is mounted a small fragment of the true cross, the cross on which Christ was crucified – his throne.An inscription has been carved on the base of that obelisk, to remind us that this throne is different than Pharaoh’s throne or Caesar’s throne.The part of the inscription facing out, facing the rest of the world, reads: Ecce crux domini, fugite partes adversae, vincit leo de tribu judae. Behold the cross of the Lord, let his enemies flee, the lion of the Tribe of Judah has conquered!The part of the inscription facing the Basilica reads: Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! Christ conquers! Christ rules! Christ reigns!Christ the King has conquered indeed, and his Kingdom will last forever.Christ rules from the cross, he conquers hearts through the power of his love and forgiveness, but he doesn’t do it all by himself. We are his ambassadors, his soldiers. We are the ones called to carry his cross into every corner of society, so that his love can bring light and hope to those living in darkness and hopelessness. To do this, each of us must carry our own crosswith faith. We must not expect perfect happiness in this life.As the cross is anchored in the earth, but it stretches up towards heaven – just so, our happiness begins on this earth, when we discover the depth of God’s love for us, but it will never be complete until, with God’s grace, we reach heaven.In this life we are called to work and to fight,resisting the tug of our selfish nature day after day. We are called to reach out to our neighbors who don’t know Christ, who have no purpose in the midst of their sufferings, and introduce them to Jesus. We are called to defend courageously Christian values, even if society attacks us because of it.Above all, we must never limit our faith to our private lives. No, our faith must affect everything we do and all that we are.Because we are followers of Christ the King, we should be more dependable professionals, more self-sacrificing parents,more responsible workers, more active and joyful citizens. Christ is our King. He died to save us. Is it too much to do a bit more for him and hs Kingdom?As long as history lasts, this King will have enemies, and if we truly love him, which we do, we will fight them, using the same weapons that he used: obedience to the Father’s will, and self-forgetting love of neighbor.