FIRST READING From the Second Book of Samuel (5:1-3)
All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron. 'Look' they said 'we are your own flesh and blood. In days past when Saul was our king, it was you who led Israel in all their exploits; and the Lord said to you: "You are the man who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you shall be the leader of Israel." So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a pact with them at Hebron in the presence of the Lord, and they anointed David king of Israel.
SECOND READING From the Letter of Paul to the Colossians (1:12-20)
We give thanks to the Father who has made it possible for you to join the saints and with them to inherit the light. Because that is what he has done: he has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves, and in him, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.
He is the image of the unseen God and the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible - Thrones and Dominations and Sovereignties and Powers - all things were created through him and for him. Before anything was created, he existed, and he holds all things in unity.
Now the Church is his body, he is its head. As he is the Beginning, he was first to be born from the dead, so that he should be first in every way.
Because God wanted all perfection to be found in him and all things to be reconciled through him and for him, everything in heaven and everything on earth, when he made peace by his death -on the cross.
GOSPEL READING Luke 23:35-43
The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. 'He saved others', they said 'let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One'. The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer him vinegar they said, 'If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself. Above him there was an inscription: "This is is the King of the Jews."
One of the criminals hanging there abused him. 'Are you not the Christ?' he said. 'Save yourself and us as well.' But the other spoke up and rebuked him. 'Have you no fear of God at all?' he said, You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus: he said 'remember me when you come into your kingdom.' 'Indeed, I promise you: he replied 'today you will be with me in paradise.'
Have you ever dreamt about celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem, or Easter Sunday in Jerusalem? There are recognised geographical locations for many of the Gospel- identified events in the Bible. Four written Gospels are identified. Some who who visit the Holy Land, as pilgrims, speak of a 'fifth' gospel. It's not one that is read. Rather it is experienced by the heart and soul of those who seek to walk in the footsteps' of Jesus.
The Feast of Christ the King, celebrated this Sunday, 24th. Nov, traditionally brings the Christian Church's liturgical year to a close. If you were invited to choose an identifiable location in which to celebrate this feast, what would be your choice? Could you, in fact, identify a place? Might you, instead, search the Gospels for what, in the recorded life of Jesus, links with this feast?
Perhaps, as children, we just accepted the imagery of Christ the King that came our way via statues of the Infant of Prague, paintings and pageants which we watched or in which we took part etc? Now, in our adult lives, it is more appropriate that we examine in depth what the title 'Christ the King' means to us. For sure, there should be differences between childhood memories and our adult theological understanding but are we continuing to make that adjustment? Sometimes it maybe in the least likely circumstances that we find ourselves confronted by words and/or images that challenge our unthought-through and non-updated spirituality.
For example, the seven Canary Islands, sitting in the surging Atlantic Ocean 50 miles offshore from the vast Saharan desert, are a well-attested rest and recuperation destination. Who might have thought to find a flower on these volcanic eruptions named after Jesus' Crown of Thorns? The island of Tenerife is dominated by Mt. Teide, the highest point in Spain and the highest point, above sea level, in the islands of the Atlantic at 3,718 m. (12,198 ft.) On its lower slopes grow magnificent flora, some particular to the Canaries. One, Las Espinas del Senor, ('the thorns of the Saviour') is brought to mind as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. (John 19:1)
With deep-green, moisture-retaining leather-like leaves, 'the thorns of the Saviour' - a name that reflects the long-standing Spanish Christian influence across the islands - are topped with multiple bright-red two-petal flowers with yellow stamens. Though they look delicate, they withstand the searing midday sun and a paucity of rain. In what can be, in the long dry season, a rather drab landscape the massed flowers of 'the thorns of the Saviour' bring a very welcome splash of colour. However, it is not the flowers but rather the unseen stems of the plant that give it its name. The thick and sturdy stems are closely packed with strong thorns well capable of lacerating unprotected skin as well as causing unpleasant infection. They also effectively shield the flowers from marauding lizards.
Today, sadly, people either hear or remember the name of the plant without making the association with Jesus. The barbaric treatment metered out to our scourged and bleeding Saviour was added to by the soldiers, on the first Good Friday, who made a terrifying circlet or crown of skull-piercing thorns that further mocked Jesus' Kingship. The bound, mature stems of 'the thorns of the Saviour' would have caused horrendous cerebral suffering. Today, gardeners usually use double layered gloves when handling the plants.
The 'Thorns of the Saviour' flower year-round. So, in the midst of a late November Canarian Sunday's warmth and relaxation, one's eyes are drawn to nature's own reminder that the Kingship of Christ was unlike any other. But, to be fully aware, one has to gently part the close-packed flowers and leaves with a stick to behold the horror of the dark thorns that lie just beneath and give the plant its name.
So often, in the busyness of modern life, our eyes skim only the surface of all that surrounds us. Ten consecutive seconds is regarded, in commercial terms, as a lengthy (and costly) exposure of a product to a prospective client via TV or billboard. On-line shopping pumps us up to choose quickly with little reminds that there are 'only seven left at this price'. The times of gently perusing through markets and stores are not only much reduced, they are in the process of disappearing.
Inevitably we bring the same behaviour to church when we gather for Mass or perhaps when we are drawn to prayer. There's a superficiality of approach that may feed the eye and ear but which probably short-changes the soul. To discover and develop an appreciation of the power of the thorns beneath the surface of 'The thorns of the Saviour', one has to stop and investigate … and that takes time. Meanwhile, the cavalcade will have moved on and we risk being left behind.
You could choose any one of the multiple components that make up the image of Christ the King - from Judas the betrayer's kiss of greeting in the garden of Gethsemane, the apostles' desertion of their Lord, the multiple humiliations and abuse of Jesus, through his mock trial before Pilate, his Way of the Cross, his Crucifixion, The Centurion's acclamation, his words from the Cross, the spear in his side, his being laid in a borrowed tomb - it is all Christ the King.
Wherever you and I happened to be, stationary or in transit, if we use the eyes of our soul there will be signs a plenty to remind us that on this day, especially, but not only today, we are called to honour Christ our King, not by gazing on a plaster Infant of Prague or Sacred Heart, but in the very real human displacement that is all around us in shop doorways, derelict sites, adrift in unseaworthy craft.
Hans Urs von Balthasar writes in his book on the rosary, The Threefold Garland, that it is in Christ's Passion that the meaning of Mary's "yes" is fully revealed:
"Hers is a consent which is constantly being expanded wider and wider.
Here in the Passion - the heartland of his Kingship - she is being asked that, for the sake of God and that of man, she should say 'yes' to the unimaginable torture of her Child."
As an alternate form of the "Hail Mary" expresses it:
'Hail Mary, full of sorrows, the Crucified is with thee; tearful art thou amongst women, and tearful is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of the Crucified King, give tears to us, crucifiers of thy Son, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.'