The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, ‘Jesus wept’. He was on his way to visit the tomb of Lazarus. He wept because he mourned his friend.
He wept because of the sorrow death has brought into the world. (It is only 1030 hrs today and already I have heard of the deaths of four people I have known). He wept because of the hardness of heart of the people of his time who did not welcome the good news he announced. And he wept for the people of every age ‘since the creation of the world … who knew God but did not honour him’ (Romans 1:20-21).
As we survey our world and our country we have much cause to weep but this is not the end of the story. God did not come into the world to tell us, ‘I told you so, and you did not listen’. He came to free us from our hardness of heart and open up a new way. It cost him dearly. The hostility he met led to his own death but he did not weep for that. He laughed! At least that is the message of a crucifix in the castle of Xavier in Spain, dating back to before Francis Xavier’s time, which shows him laughing. I attach a photo of it here.
Why is he laughing? It is not hard to see. He is laughing with the joy of a captain who has led their team to win the world cup. It was a gruelling challenge but they did it. Jesus suffered in his agony in the garden and then in his passion and execution. He is the ‘first-born from the dead’ (Colossians 1:18) and ‘many’ benefit from his victory. So, although he is in agony on the cross, he knows he has made it.
In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King as a reminder that Jesus came to announce the reign of God in the world. It was a time after the convulsions of World War I when atheism and an oppressive form of nationalism were on the rise. The Church wanted to assert the authority of God through Jesus over the world and this Sunday we celebrate the day. It was a celebration which caught on. In 1928 Michael Pro, a young Jesuit priest who was being hunted by the Mexican revolutionaries, was caught and executed. His last words were, ‘Long live Christ the King’!
Suffering is no laughing matter but there is a way of suffering that is positive and creative. Suffering does not have to be a disaster and totally meaningless. We often see people accepting the pain and the diminution of their life with heroism and even humour. I always remember a brother Jesuit who went blind after an operation when he was in his seventies. He told me, ‘90% of people who are blind can see something – some shapes, some movement. I’m part of the 10%!’ He said it with a mischievous grin as if he was part of an elite!
24 November 2019 Christ the King
2 Samuel 5:1-3 Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:35-43