Saturday, April 07, 2012

Homily Good Friday – Christ, Still King on the Cross

chris the king About three years ago, I went on a retreat with a group from St. Athanasius before my third year of theology and I saw a crucifix I think I will never forget. Our retreat was to the EWTN Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, AL. When we arrived at the grounds of the Shrine and monastery, the first thing we saw was a large castle, complete with all the architectural elements and furniture of a real castle.

The reason they have such a castle, practically, is so that the constant stream of pilgrims to their Shrine will have a place to congregate, eat, visit the gift shop, or listen to retreat directors without disturbing the quiet of the square outside that is between the castle and the Shrine Church. But, spiritually, this castle is a very real reminder of the spiritual warfare that is waged all around us and the necessity for all of us to engage this battle with courage and resolve. And a castle always reminds us that we have a king, Jesus Christ, who has fought and won the battle against sin and death.

As we passed through the castle and crossed the square toward the Church we noticed two long colonnades on either side, one containing the Stations of the Cross and the other the crucifix that I so vividly remember. It was life-sized and commissioned by an artist to reflect the wounds which are shown in the Shroud of Turin, the burial cloth in which Jesus was wrapped when he was laid in the tomb. Literally every inch of his body was slashed or wounded. The sight of it almost made me recoil, it was hard to look at. But I think this has been the common reaction of all mankind since that first, dark, Good Friday afternoon. Indeed, as Isaiah the prophet foretold, “Many were amazed at him – so marred was his look beyond that of man, and his appearance beyond that of mortals – so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless … He was… One of those from whom men hide their faces” (Isaiah 52:14-15; 53:3).

Crucifixion was the most painful and degrading punishment that the Roman empire employed, so horrible that Romans were exempt from it – it was reserved for the worst criminals of the lands they occupied. The words of the great Roman orator, Cicero, show how infamous a punishment it was: “That a Roman citizen should be bound is an abuse,” he said, “that he be lashed is a crime; that he be put to death is virtually [as to kill one’s closest relative]; what, then, shall I say, if he be hung on a cross? There is no word fit to describe a deed so horrible.”[1]

How then does the castle hold true? Is this the king we were all prepared to meet? He is king, and upon the cross, especially so. But we need not be afraid, for He is unlike any king we have ever known. Isaiah, again, foretold “Because of his affliction he shall see… his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked” (Is 53:11, 12). And the author of the Letter to the Hebrews proclaimed “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us… confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Heb 4:14, 16).

“To men Christ’s kingship may seem paradoxical: he dies, yet he lives forever; he is defeated and crucified, yet he is victorious”[2]. But, throughout His Passion and Death that we contemplate today, Christ’s Kingship is maintained. Our account from John’s Gospel in particular emphasizes

“that Jesus freely accepted his death (Jn 14:31) and freely allowed himself to be arrested (18:4, 11). The Gospel shows our Lord’s superiority over his judges (18:20-21) and accusers (19:8, 12); and his majestic serenity in the face of pain, which makes one more aware of [Jesus’ triumph] than of his actual sufferings.”[3]

His kingship as a man was meek and moderated. He did not allow the royalty of his divinity, his claim on all creation, to have the glorious splendor it deserved because He did not come to exercise earthly power. He wanted a spiritual reign, to rule over hearts. To prove it, he made his cross his last earthly throne: Upon his death on the cross, “God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee must [bend], in heaven and on earth and under the earth; and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11).

What then does Christ’s kingship mean for us? The Catholic Church is the budding forth of his kingdom on earth (Lumen gentium 5). Each one of us is called to participate in this kingdom and expand it through our good works. The Lord should be the king of our families, and he should reign among our friends, neighbors and colleagues at work.[4] But his reign starts with each of us. Does he reign in our minds with firm belief in truth and doctrine? Does he reign in our will with obedience to the will of God? Does he reign in our hearts with love for God above all things? The good thief, at his bitter end, looking at Christ on the cross, recognized his kingship, placed his trust in him and received the promise of heaven: “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” (Lk 23:42). We faithful Christians do not wait till our bitter end; we make this same appeal tonight as we embrace and kiss the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.

[1] Navarre Commentary, St. John, 186.
[2] Ibid., 181
[3] Ibid., 173-174
[4] In Conversation with God, Vol. 5, “Christ the King”, by Fr. Francis Fernandez

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