Most of the time, we Americans don’t pay a lot of attention to what’s going on in the world of royalty, except for the times there are scandals or public disagreements among the royals. But this year was different. Queen Elizabeth of England passed away and we witnessed the transition of positions among members of her family. Her son Charles is no longer Prince of Wales. He is now King Charles. His own firstborn son is now next in line for the throne, becoming Prince of Wales. There was much pageantry, much emotion, and great interest in the process, not only in Great Britain, but around the world.
Part of the reason for so much interest in the lives of royalty is that most of us have lives that are far from royal. We are fascinated by the power and the privileges of these men and women. We don’t see the day-to-day reality of their lives as human beings behind the scenes of their royal duties. Privacy gets maintained for the most part by those who work in the palaces and for members of the royalty. But the freedom to slip out of the palace and go to the grocery store or down the street to the park on a short walk is not part of the reality and privilege of royal life. What we might call “the common touch” is not a general feature of life for kings, queens, and their families. They are kept in a royal bubble.
As we come to the last Sunday of our liturgical year, the question of kingship arises. This is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, more commonly known as the Feast of Christ the King. What does it mean for us to say that Christ is King? We don’t have kings and queens whose actions affect our daily lives. The majority of humanity does not. Yet we speak of Jesus as King of the Universe.
This feast celebrates the reunion of the human with the divine. The readings remind us of the ways kingship and down-to-earth relationships with ordinary people go together in God’s world.
We begin with the story of how David, a former shepherd boy, came to be king of all the tribes of Israel. (2 Samuel 5:1-3) David was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the second king of Israel while Saul was still king. He was the youngest son of his parents and not at all seen as a person who might one day be king. However, the Lord told Samuel that each of the older brothers was not the one He had chosen. Finally, after Samuel had met and rejected each of the older boys, David’s father called him in from tending the sheep. Samuel anointed him immediately and David went back to tend the sheep.
As time went on, David left the sheep to take supplies to his brothers in Saul’s army. There he defeated Goliath, then as time went on, led soldiers against the enemies of Israel, avoided being hunted down and killed by King Saul’s armies and allies, and eventually was asked to be king of some of the tribes. After Saul’s death, the leaders of the tribes joined together and asked him to be king of them all. They noted, “The Lord said to you, ‘You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.’” This man, who had literally been a shepherd, was entrusted with the care of all his people. There was no hereditary monarchy yet in Israel. Saul’s sons did not inherit their father’s throne automatically. A man with the common touch, who knew a life of caring for animals and people, became the leader and ruler of the tribes.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, (1:12-20) reminded his brothers and sisters to thank the Father for making them ready to share in the life of God’s kingdom, for rescuing them from the power of darkness and transferring them to the kingdom of the beloved Son. He quotes a beautiful statement of the role of Jesus in history: the image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation. Creation came about through him. All things are held together in him. He is the beginning, the firstborn, head of the church, the one who holds all together. And how can this be? “All the fullness was pleased to dwell” in him and “through him to reconcile all things for him.” Jesus, through his death, made peace between heaven and earth once again. This King, this word that brought all into being, didn’t hesitate to become a human being, a “common person.”
As Jesus hung on the cross, a sign was placed above his head. The sign read: “This is the King of the Jews.” It was a mocking notice to all who passed along the road that opposition to Roman rule would not be tolerated. Those passing by saw the sign and taunted Jesus, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
St. Luke described the scene for us. (Lk 23:35-43) Two men were crucified with Jesus. One of them joined the folks who were taunting him, but the other spoke up. He reproached the other man and then spoke directly to Jesus. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus did not look down on or condemn the man who was being executed for having committed a serious crime. Instead, he promised, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus had the “common touch.” He was an ordinary person, who just happened to be the one in whom the fullness of God was also dwelling. He brought the Almighty and the created ones into union again. He was and is a King in the best sense of the word. He is also one of us, in the best sense of what that means.
Today we celebrate the gift of such a King. We are called to live as he did and help build the kingdom through our daily lives. He led the way. We follow and model our lives on his. And in times of trouble, he reaches out from the place of suffering that he experienced and holds us tight, helping us bear our pain and remain trustingly in his embrace, until we too are raised to new life. He did it for the thief on the cross. He does it for each of us too. We give thanks for this great gift.
Readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – Cycle CRead More