As seen in Santa Maria in Aracoeli on the Capitoline Hill, Rome
Today is the Sunday Next Before Advent, and under the new calendar shared by Anglicans, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics, it is Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday of the Christian year.
Jesus Christ is King. In his famous Tome, Pope Leo I reminds us:
He took on the aspect of servitude without the stainof sin; He added to the humanity but did not lessen the divinity. For that putting of of self whereby He the invisible made Himself visible and as Creator and Lord of all things wished to become one of the mortals was an inclination to mercy, not a failure of power. He who keeping the form of God created man, the same was made man in an aspect of servitude. (Ep. 28, trans. Edmund Hunt, p. 96)
In one of his many balanced statements stressing the duality of Christ throughout the Tome, Leo also says, ‘the Lord of the universe assumed the aspect of servitude with a shadow veiling the immensity of his majesty.’ (Hunt, p. 97)
In Sermon 9.2, Leo addresses this week’s Gospel reading, Matthew 25:31-46 — ‘The Sheep and the Goats’ — and says:
Let those who want Christ to spare them have compassion for the poor. Let those who desire a bond with the fellowship of the blessed be ‘readily disposed’ toward nourishing the wretched. No human being should be considered worthless by another. That nature which the Creator of the universe made his own should not be looked down upon in anyone. Is it permitted for any of the hired hands to refuse that payment which the Lord declares to have been given him? Your fellow servant receives assistance, and the Lord returns thanks. Food for someone in need is the cost of purchasing the kingdom of heaven, and the one who is geneorus with temporal things is made heir of the eternal. (trans. Freeland and Conway, p. 40)
That passage was preached in November 443 at a service where Leo went on to encourage the Christians of Rome to give generously to the poor. Here we see the ethical implications of our Christology.
Christ is King, He rules over all the universe. As God, he is the ultimate King and, like a King of days of old, an ultimate Judge. He is perfect and sufficient in himself. Yet this mighty King, as we saw in the Tome and John 1, took on flesh and pitched His tent among us.
How, then, can we look down upon the poor, the sick, the needy, the disabled, the elderly, those of lower classes, those of lesser education, those in professions of compromised morality? These are people whom the King of All became like; he took on the same nature of any and all humans.
Therefore, we should have compassion on the lowly, the poor, the outcast. We should love them with real love, bring them both tangible and spiritual grace and benefits. This is what Leo, and his monastic contemporaries, calls us to do.
And here I preach as much to myself as to the faceless readers on the Internet.
Amen. Lord, have mercy upon us.
Tomorrow is Christ the King Sunday. Rick Dugan has a good meditation on the topic over at St. George the Dragonslayer. The image of Christ as the King he is was one easily taken up by the Anglo-Saxon world, reflected in many pieces of literature, such as Andreas where Christ is portrayed as a King and the Apostles his thegns.
One piece of devotional poetry that comes from the earliest days of English writing and is preserved for us in the tenth-century Vercelli Book, a manuscript containing various pieces of Old English literature. It describes a dream the narrator had wherein he beheld the Rood (ie. Cross), and the Rood spoke to him, relating in dramatic verse and forceful power the scene of Christ’s crucifixion. There is a translation of the whole poem here. Read it; it’s worth the time, trust me.
For our purposes, I’ll quote the following from that translation:
The young hero stripped himself–he, God Almighty–
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth’s fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together. All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man’s side, after ghost he gave up.
Much have I born on that hill
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,
King’s fall lamented. Christ was on rood.
And this, later on:
Death he tasted there, yet God rose again
by his great might, a help unto men.
He then rose to heaven. Again sets out hither
into this Middle-Earth, seeking mankind
on Doomsday, the Lord himself,
Almighty God, and with him his angels,
when he will deem–he holds power of doom–
everyone here as he will have earned
for himself earlier in this brief life.
This is a clear, unequivocal statement of the Kingship of Jesus. Jesus is King. He truly reigns on high, perfectly indivisible from the Father as true God. Each age and culture tries to cast him into its own image of the ideal leader — we smile at the Dream of the Rood and Christ’s thegns and grimace at Thomas Bradwardine (d. 1349) when he says that God can do whatever He pleases since He is a Lord — and what we have to realise is that Christ is unlike any earthly ruler.
Christ is the King who laid down His life for His subjects.
His crown is of thorns.
His throne is the seat of his own execution.
He calls us to obedience and to follow his own example of self-giving love and endless charity. We are to give of ourselves for others, give our lives for life. We are to be humble. We are to turn the other cheek. We are not to consider our own esteem as something to be grasped. If we live walking in His path, then we shall see Him when He comes to “deem . . . everyone here”. He is King and, unlike any modern monarch, demands complete and utter obedience — an obedience, a service, that is perfect freedom.
So, “worship the King, all glorious above.” He is seated on a sapphire throne today; let us remember the glory of the Cross of yesterday.