SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. This has never been my favorite feast. As a dedicated believer in self-government, a republican with a small “r”, the whole idea of “King” is rather distasteful to me.
But beyond that, we have the new, correct title of this Feast. In the liturgical books when I was ordained back in the “good old days”, this Feast was known as “Christ the King.” Pretty simple. But about 10 years ago, when the revised Roman Missal came out, the name was changed to the “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” While a bit clunkier, it is that last bit, “King of the Universe” that impresses me.
The Universe is a very, very BIG, OLD, and STRANGE place. Our best estimate now is that the universe is 13.772 billion years old, and it is at least 93 billion light years in breadth. That is OLD. That is BIG. It is mentally strenuous to get our heads wrapped around such a humongous concept.
And yet we claim, as part of our faith, that the man Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago in Palestine, is King and Lord, not just of Israel, not just of earth, not just of our solar system, but of the whole bloomin Universe. That is, self-evidently, outrageous.
And yet, that is clearly what St. Paul proclaims to us in the second reading today. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.” That is quite a sweeping vision!
But what does all that have to do with us? What practical difference does it make to the price of a cell phone, or a gallon of gas, or a Whataburger? How does that sweeping vision impact us?
I’ll come back to that in a minute, but first I want to digress. Four years ago I took a trip to Peru. While there I visited an archeological site outside of Lima. It was a pre-Inca site, I think it was the ancient Wari culture that was gone before the Inca even showed up. Definitely pre-Columbian, long before any idea of Christianity reached that part of the world.
And these ancient people did a lot of their construction using mud bricks, which were cheap and pretty well survived the frequent earthquakes of the region. We saw an area where they made the mud bricks, and in the pit where they worked the mud by stomping on it was a very clearly preserved footprint of one of the brick-makers. Here was a clearly identified, unique, individual from centuries and centuries ago, who had lived in that city and who made mud bricks. We don’t know the individual’s name, but we do know their unique footprint. Here was a connection across centuries with a unique, specific, person.
How is Jesus Christ the King of that specific brick maker from long ago Peru? Or the millions of other people in the Americas and Asia and Australia and other places who never even heard of Jesus? Or, to really get fantastic, to any intelligent, self-reflective creatures who live on some planet in a galaxy millions of light years from here?
How is all of this connected, and what part do we play in it?
[I am weird enough to wonder about stuff like this.]
We, through God’s doing and not our own, know that Jesus is Lord, both of our lives and of the entire universe. AND we have a special role to play in the drama of salvation. It is the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, that the church – us – is the universal sacrament of salvation.
The UNIVERSAL sacrament of salvation. We are a sacrament, that is, a sign that effects what it signifies, of universal salvation; of salvation of the universe! That’s a big deal.
How we lead our lives, how we treat others, how we pray, how we worship, how we struggle to follow Jesus and live like He did, not only affects ourselves, nor only our neighbors, but somehow, spiritually, affects the salvation of the whole universe! //
How can that be? Well, it is time to turn to our Gospel. As we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we don’t see Him depicted on a royal throne, nor on the clouds of heaven, nor seated in glory at the right hand of God, nor in any other way of power and prestige. Instead we see Him bruised, battered, broken, dying miserably on the Cross. His throne is an instrument of torture and execution. His lone subject is a condemned criminal.
And yet this abject lowliness is the salvation of the universe. It is the destruction of the power of death. It is faithfulness to the end that is the ultimate triumph of God over evil. It is the entrance to the Resurrection.
Truly, God’s ways are not our ways. How you and I ever ended up being a part of the universal sacrament of salvation is certainly way beyond me to be able to figure out. But by God’s grace that is in fact what we are. The universal sacrament of salvation.
That is both a great honor and a great responsibility. It gives our lives worth and meaning far beyond what we know, what we can imagine or dream. All we can do is join in St Paul’s joyous hymn in our second reading today:
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross through him,
whether those on earth or those in heaven.”
Long live the King!