Today’s solemn feast, officially re-named in the new translation of the Mass Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is the liturgical crescendo of our church year that refers all of history to the absolute future fullness of the Kingdom of God when the exalted Christ will hand “over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power; for he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death…[and] when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the One who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:24)
That itinerant Jewish preacher who was born in a hovel, who rode the waves of Galilee, who crisscrossed the sands of Judea for a mere blip in cosmic time is revealed to us as the Alpha and the Omega, the origin and destiny of the entire universe.
Reflecting on such a “cosmic” vision takes my breath away in a manner analogous to looking through the Hubble’s telescopic eye at our staggeringly vast universe that is, as I’ve said before, an enveloping “sacrament” of the immensity of God and of the excessive character of His creative love.
Recent measurements reveal that the Universe is at least 150 billion light-years in diameter…its age is estimated to be about 13.7 billion years. — NASA
That awe-inspiring vision celebrated in our Mass today captures the glorious grandeur of God’s Providential plan for history, and also reveals the shattering power of Christ’s glorious and awesome Judgment that will once-for-all separate the sheep from the goats, bringing an end the progress of evil in a new and indefectible creation.
Perfect Power in Weakness
But we have a certain stark strangeness that unexpectedly jars us awake in today’s Gospel, one that Christians must never feel fully at ease with — the enthronement of this universal King on inconceivable majesty, His great act of assuming all-power is unveiled in the midst of a bloody and brutal execution on a Roman cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. Un-circumscribed divine glory is finally laid bare in a man beaten, ridiculed, spat upon, punched, slapped, whipped, stripped naked, robed in flies, ridiculed, taunted, crowned in mock, crucified, pierced, speaking words of pardon, surrender, abandonment, freely offering his Flesh and Blood as food for the very inhuman beasts that denied, betrayed, victimized Him.
A stanza from a gorgeous Latin liturgical poem written in the 6th century by Venantius Fortunatus captures the terrible beauty of God’s cruciform Throne:
Arbor decora et fulgida,
ornata Regis purpura,
electa digno stipite
tam sancta membra tangere.
O lovely and refulgent Tree,
adorned with purpled majesty;
culled from a worthy stock, to bear
those limbs which sanctified were.
Owning the Paradox
This paradox of powerless power, of omnipotent impotence, this “folly of God” (to mōron tou theou) that St. Paul gloried in, reveals in God an unresolvable mystery of merciful justice that stands as the eternal criterion of judgment. In a word, your resemblance of the Wounded Christ will determine your salvation or your damnation.
Those who, in this life, ingest the Mystery of Christ in faith, in Sacrament, in prayer, in suffering, in the struggle to be merciful as the Father is merciful, will find themselves saved from all of the distortions of sin and empowered to think “strangely” with the mind of Christ. Even possibly as strangely as, for example, St. John of the Ladder, whose celestial words at once enthrall and repel Christ’s earth-bound subjects with a humanly impossible, divinely commanded demand to think with Jesus Crucified:
Remembrance of wrongs done to you is the consummation of anger, the keeper of sins, hatred of righteousness, ruin of virtues, poison of the soul, worm of the mind, shame of prayer, cessation of supplication, estrangement of love, a nail stuck in the soul, pleasureless feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness, continuous sin, unsleeping transgression, hourly malice. You will know that you have completely freed yourself of this rot, not when you have prayed for the person who has offended you, nor when you exchange presents with him, nor when you invite him to your table, but only when, hearing that he has fallen into spiritual or bodily misfortune, you suffer and weep for him as yourself. The remembrance of Jesus’ sufferings cures the remembrance of wrongs, which is mightily shamed by His forbearance.
Join me in praying the text of today’s Mass Preface that helps makes present the astonishing mystery and captivating love of our God:
It is truly right and just,
our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.
For you anointed your Only Begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
with the oil of gladness as eternal Priest
and King of all creation,
so that, by offering himself on the altar of the Cross
as a spotless sacrifice to bring us peace,
he might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption and,
making all created thing subject to his rule,
he might present to the immensity of your majesty
an eternal and universal kingdom,
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice,
love and peace.
And so, with Angels and Archangels,
with Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,
we sing the hymn of your glory,
as without end we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy….