After last weeks readings full of the signs of the times and pointing forward to the second coming, this Sunday’s readings at Mass had an interesting juxtaposition.
The readings from Daniel, Revelation and the Psalm all spoke of Jesus’ majesty and glory. Here his sovereignty is seen clearly. The eternal nature of his kingdom is proclaimed. All contained awe-inspiring images, ones to stir the soul!
The Gospel seems such a contradiction. Here is Jesus in front of Pilate. He is a prisoner, having spent the night being arrested and dragged to a secret trial. His life is hanging in the balance and the crowd outside is waiting to shout for his blood. There are no majestic robes or shining diadems, although cruel versions of these make an appearance later.
These two pictures seem so different, how are we to reconcile them? There are two aspects that might help.
Thinking about the Crown of Thorns, there is an artistic tradition of shown Christ as Pilate presents him to the crowds after he has been flogged. Christ submits himself to Pilate’s judgement and that of the mob. Can humanity really judge its Creator? No, so what is going on here? Jesus is the one who is on trial but humanity ends up being judged. They have in front of them their king, irrespective of what his crown is made out of. He stands in humility and innocence, a complete in his goodness. The cries of the Crowd do not take away Christ’s kingdom. As the Second reading from Revelation tells us “He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood”. Dying for his people, even when they themselves have called for his death is part of being our king. As he says his kingdom is not of this world.
What is central to this eternal Kingdom is God’s love. I am reminded that at the heart of the Trinity is total self-emptying love; a unity of three persons, loving one another and holding nothing back. I am reminded that this love is always self-giving and therefore outward moving and life giving. Creation is brought about by this love. And so when God sees the sorrow of our fallen broken world he gives of himself in the Incarnation. The king we see in front of Pilate is there because he loves freely and utterly. He holds nothing back, even when he faces crucifixion. This love is truly glorious and majestic and takes our breath away.
God foreshadows the Crucifixion in the Transfiguration. On the mountain, between the two prophets, who speak to him of his coming death, Christ is revealed in all his heavenly glory. This is who he is: the God who created life out of love and never held anything back.
His love makes the two contrasting pictures in the readings both true. He is the God who created the Heavens and the Earth. He is also the one who stood before Pilate as a criminal. He is seen with glory, power and majesty and he stands silent, in humility waiting to be judged. He shines with light lifted up, high on the mountain and he suffers lifted high on the Cross. He is stared at by those who love him in silent wonder and with contempt by those who resist his offer of love.
As the Angels sing in Revelations ““Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev 5:12) Again the New Testament reading for Christ the King (taken from the beginning of Revelation), holds both aspects of Christ’s kingship. “It is he who is coming on the clouds; everyone will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the races of the earth will mourn over him. This is the truth. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.
Here, on the mountain; in front of Pilate and the mob; on the Cross; in the heavenly city; here is Christ our King.