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This Sunday: Christ the King’s Throne, Crown and Court

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The world’s kings are known for the trappings and ceremonies associated with material power. They have crowns, thrones, armies and royal courts.

Jesus Christ in this Sunday’s readings (Feast of Christ the King, Year C) turns kingship on its head: He has the cross as a throne, thorns as his crown and a court of the condemned for his royal subjects.

The Cross

There he hangs upon the cross. The sign above his head proclaims him a king, but nothing else does. He gets no respect from any of the people who normally respect kings.

“Even the soldiers jeered at him,” says the Gospel.

The only one who mentions his kingship in anything but a mocking way is the thief being crucified with him, who acknowledges his own sin and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Jesus replies with the kingly words, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

It turns out that if you are with him, you are in his kingdom.

In the second reading, St. Paul describes how Christ himself is the “kingdom.” The whole passage is a powerful explanation of Jesus Christ that could be used as a text for a month of morning meditations. In the middle, he says of Christ: “He is the head of the body, the Church,” says Paul. In other words, he is both pre-eminent among us and inseparable from us.

Christ is himself the Kingdom. Because he is God, who cannot be contained by time and space, he has a cosmic significance. Because he is a man, he is humanity’s point of entry into eternity.

If Christ is the Kingdom, then even the cross can be his throne.

The Crown of Thorns

If the throne is the location of the king, the crown is the symbol of his power.

The only crown Jesus ever wore was a crown of thorns. This draws sharp attention to what kind of power he wields: A spiritual power, not a temporal power.

As the Second Reading puts it, Jesus is “the image of the invisible God. … In him were created all things.” We would easily understand hearing about “the one who creates;” but here we encounter the one “in whom” things are created. This is an entirely different concept — as if St. Paul said Jesus wasn’t “a carpenter” but was “carpentry” itself.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together,” writes Paul. That makes Jesus not just the principle and end, but also the source and sustaining power of creation.

It is remarkable how the reading describes such a powerful, all-reaching being who is nonetheless fully man. He is able to reconcile divinity with humanity — but his power is nonetheless almost entirely a spiritual, unseen thing.

A king with a crown of thorns is a weak king who will leave you unprotected. But Kingship with a crown of thorns is a new thing. He won’t save the sinner from the cross; he won’t stop our pain — instead, he will meet us there, in our pain, with his redemptive suffering.

This is spiritual power that happens despite temporal weakness.

“At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness,” says the Catechism (1060). “Then the just will reign with Christ forever, glorified in body and soul, and the material universe itself will be transformed. God will then be ‘all in all’ in eternal life.”

Court of the Condemned

Which brings us back to the words of Christ’s persecutors and the condemned thief.

“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself,” say the religious leaders.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” asks the thief.

This is also new for a king: A king reviled by the righteous but embraced by the guilty — a king of the condemned. The two groups are choose their own fortunes with their words.

Today’s feast us that Jesus is Our Lord, Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. But the rule of Jesus doesn’t happen somewhere in the Milky Way Galaxy. It is far more localized: He rules in the hearts of the faithful.

We can reject him like his enemies, or we can accept him like the good thief. But we will be rejecting the kingdom itself, and the only kingship in the universe. Or we will be accepting his kingdom, through the Church, which can save us.

The choice is ours.

 

The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).

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Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Fatima Family Handbook and What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. He writes weekly for the National Catholic Register and Aleteia. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Catholic Digest. He lives in Atchison, Kansas, with his wife, April, and has nine children.