Well, it seems as if, for a while, we are all done with fairy tale royal weddings from the UK. Sensible people such as ourselves do not envy those most privileged couples because the harsh reality of life doesn’t allow us to dream of anything vaguely resembling what the lives reserved for royals are. Life teaches us that our feet must be securely on the ground.
Yet, even so, our way of celebrating Christ as King of the whole universe seems anticlimactic, inconsistent and paradoxical. I am referring mostly to the passage from the Gospel of Luke (23:35-43). The inscription over Jesus’ head is a mockery. “This is the King of the Jews,” proclaimed in Hebrew, Latin and Greek for everybody to know about the cruel farce that is playing out.
The throne is a rough cross: the cruelest instrument of torture and death that humans have ever devised. And the King himself is hardly human anymore. Lost are his human features; he is more like a bruised worm. Yet, my dear friends in Christ, there is a reason for this absurdity. Our divine King has become our humblest servant, willing to sacrifice himself totally so that we may rediscover meaning, purpose, courage, hope, gratitude and willingness to love again in spite of everything that has tried us and pushed us to the limit of our endurance.
Thanks to the speed of the information network, thanks to the prompt availability of news from across the globe, often, we are not given enough time to lick our wounds and regain our strength before we have to face the next wave of challenges. We are bombarded by lots of reasons to become apprehensive, anxious and, maybe, even slightly panicky.
Yet, St. Paul, in his Letter to the Colossians (1:12-20), writes for us something that can be remarkably comforting amid our pain and our fears: “…in him all things hold together…”
Even on the cross, Jesus is the Head of his Body, the Church, and we are all held together in him. By the royal, noble, unselfish way in which Jesus conducts himself on the cross, he holds us together and keeps us from being crushed by the weight of our pain or from falling to pieces. Alone, in our hurts, without Jesus as our crucified King, we would act the way people usually do act: by recoiling into ourselves and re-channeling all remaining energies to keep us from annihilation. Amid the most horrific tortures, the most intense humiliations and the thickest darkness, our King employs his remaining energies to bring hope and reassurance to a criminal whose only merit is the one of owning up to his crimes at the very end of his life.
There are several lessons which we can learn today, all for the improvement of our life on earth and for setting us on the path to eternal glory.
The first one is the lesson of surprise, because our God’s ways are not like our ways at all. We all might have read of how, under the most dehumanizing conditions, some prisoners in concentration camps dared to conduct themselves in a noble, generous way and displayed improbable generosity and magnanimity, just as Jesus did. Therefore, we should hold fast to the idea that the same can happen to us; that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are capable of self-immolation for another human being.
The second lesson must be the one of training ourselves, daily, to fend off the temptation to be self-absorbed, unmoved and aloof. Such inner disposition would serve us right whenever we might be asked to display nobility of soul in very trying situations. We should never allow painful settings to crush us into irrelevance or become embittered, cynical, disillusioned to the extent even of poisoning other people’s lives. Such devastating feelings should be fought with resolve and determination so that the door to redemption and restoration may still remain ajar.
The third lesson would be the one of refusing to live the delusion of piling up merits before our God so that, eventually, we would feel that He owes us something. We should never count our prayers; we should not keep track of our good deeds. This would be a clear sign of arrogance, presumption and also foolishness. Hard as it is to swallow, we must never think that we have found the way to earn admission into Paradise. Such a delusional attitude would cheapen the infinite value of Christ’s blood poured out for our justification.
Another reassuring lesson is the one of realizing how every human life is priceless, regardless of what value society affords it: a lot, a little or no value at all. This value is assigned to it by the precious blood of our Savior, shed also for society’s scum, even for convicted criminals condemned to die slowly and most painfully on a cross.
And, finally, we ought to look with realistic firmness at our empty hands. Like the repentant thief, we should be able to admit our abysmal poverty not only because it is so evident, but also to dispose us to be enriched by God’s grace.
Some, or all of these lessons, can help us considerably and enable us to face with courage and hope the most trying, darkest periods of our life because we have seen how there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord and King.