– Rainer Maria Rilke
Readings: Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.
Reflection: I find it ironic that the liturgical church year begins and ends with a sense of waiting and yearning. From the waiting through December’s darkness for Emmanuel – God with us – to be born to Mary and Joseph; to the yearning for the fulfillment of all things in God’s exalted Christ, we seem to spend much of our time scouring the horizon for something we don’t yet have. On one hand it is appropriate to wait for God’s final redemption because, let’s face it, we ain’t found the promised land yet. There is still plenty of brokenness in our world; plenty of darkness, greed, and corrosive spirit.
On the other hand, however, we spend our time scouring the horizon because we are so polished at ignoring the presence of God in our midst, so practiced at thwarting God’s efforts to work in and through our lives, so insistent on putting off until eternity what we can begin to enjoy today.In my estimation, Rilke describes precisely how we are able to perform this feat in the poem cited above. We insist on painting over God in our own image, so that we control how we interact with God and determine what God is to do for us. We can wait forever, for example, for God to bring our enemies down in utter defeat; because that’s our vision… not God’s. The psalmist is beginning to glimpse something of this God who, rather than using the angel armies to ravage and destroy, employs them to make war obsolete.
Yet this is nothing compared to the Jesus on the cross described by Luke responding in compassion to a convicted thief. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” This one who has rejected violence altogether in favor of the power of Love in its many refractions: grace, peace, compassion, forgiveness, gentleness, kindness, patience, generosity… and more. I have a suggestion for a fresh approach to Reign of Christ Sunday. Instead of focusing on when the Christ will usher in the final fulfillment of all things, let’s focus on the nature of the Christ who Reigns… not the Christ spoken about in apocalyptic literature, but the Christ revealed in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. This might lead to a few surprises.