“Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea, even there your hand guides me, you right hand holds me fast. If I say, ‘Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light’ – darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day” (Psalm 139:7-12b).
The psalmist praises the greatness of God and his abiding presence. The psalm opens with images of the vastness and immensity of God’s greatness: heavens and Sheol, land and sea, darkness and light. Everything is included in God’s bounty. The psalm then moves to the more personal. “You formed me in my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb…my very self you know. My bones are not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:13ff).
God’s presence is transcendent; yet, at the same time, there is an intimacy with each human being. Both these themes are represented in the solemnity we celebrate today.
The Solemnity of Christ the King, King of the Universe celebrates the kingship of Jesus Christ. The celebration recalls the powerful love of God made manifest in Christ Jesus. The celebration remembers the love of Christ for his Father and the victory that is won through his faithfulness, a victory he shares with each human being.
The transcendence of God breaks into the world by the very act of creation. His abiding activity and presence in the lives of the people is seen in the covenant and the formation of Israel. All this is in preparation for the definitive revelation of God our heavenly Father through Christ Jesus.
The first reading today speaks of the selection and anointing of David as King of Israel. Earlier the Lord had designated David as his anointed one saying: “You shall shepherd my people Israel….” David is set as a king to unite the people before God and the nations. He is to lead the flock as a shepherd cares for his sheep. He is to defend the flock by being “commander of Israel.”
The role of the king is to represent the Lord before the people. Unfortunately, there were not too many kings who did this well. Regardless, the office and role prepares for the day when a mighty king will arise to redeem Israel. Jesus is this King.
Jesus takes on the enemies of Israel and indeed of all humanity; namely sin and death (and all related to them). The conflict is seen throughout His life and comes to a climax on the cross. Evil runs its course on Jesus who remains faithful to the Father, and in that faithfulness comes the victory that is life. Jesus’ victory over sin and death makes Him Lord of Life and King of the Universe.
The Gospel passage recounts the crucifixion. The placard above the dying Jesus reads: “This is the King of the Jews.” The soldiers, unaware of what is actually happening, mock Jesus: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” The only person in the account that understands is one of the criminals who were being crucified alongside Jesus. It is he who says: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus responds with the authority of the King: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
The hymn from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians beautifully captures the meaning of Christ’s kingship. The hymn begins by offering thanks to the Father for the life He has won for us in Christ Jesus. The gains are seen in a contrast between the kingdom of the earth (darkness, sin, death) and the Kingdom of the Son (light, love, mercy). The hymn speaks of the greatness of Christ who was present at the creation of the world (“in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and invisible”). The world was created “for Him.” Jesus is the bond that holds everything in unity.
The hymn moves to its conclusion singing of the manner in which this unity is established and restored: “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.”
How do we respond to the love of God manifest in Christ the King? The responsorial for today’s liturgy helps us in this regard: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” The house of the Lord is the New Jerusalem and its King is Jesus Christ.
The psalm helps us to rejoice in Christ’s victory and kingship. For us his kingship brings life. The life we live now is one that is full of light. We have witnessed the love of God and his victory in Christ the King so we can be confident that even as we walk in the “valley of the shadow of death” we fear no evil for “you are at my side” (Psalm 123).
As we go through life there are times when the “darkness” seems to be very dark. The society in which we live is full of confusion and contradictions. Sometimes it seems like the waves can knock us about and the currents can lead to dangerous waters.
Sometimes we are faced with personal tragedy that brings with it a pall of darkness. Sometimes we are faced with sickness and death. Sometimes the ravages of addiction and despair hit our families. Sometimes we become frightened by war, terror or crime. Sometimes we worry due to fragile state of the economy with questionable job security, health insurance and lost value of savings. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the destructive force of nature and its indiscriminate damage.
Yet it is precisely into these situations that the King of the Universe comes to heal our souls, to forgive our sins, to comfort our grief, to instruct our ignorance, to alleviate our fears, and to restore our hope. The Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe is indeed a cause for rejoicing for he has called us out of darkness “into His own wonderful light” (cf. I Peter 2:9).
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.