The is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, celebrating that our risen Lord is centre of all the universe, who is there for all creation, in all times, in all eternity.
‘King’ was a more powerful symbol in biblical times when absolute monarchs could rule large numbers of people, but now existing monarchs are more ceremonial than actual rulers. Some reflection may be necessary to understand that ‘King’ is just an honorary title for Jesus Christ, rather as a ruler ‘not of this world’ he has a power beyond our imagining.
As last week, this is a selection from the late Jewish apocalyptic book, today focusing on ‘one like a Son of Man’ given an everlasting sovereignty over all. It seems to take us out of time and into the eternity in which heaven is pictured like the great court scene of a monarch familiar to the readers. ‘The one of great age’ seems an oblique way of speaking in visionary language of the eternal God. ‘Like a son of man’ suggests someone with a human appearance.
Jesus who often called himself ‘the Son of Man’ may have taken the title from this verse, which had not been often used for the expected Messiah. That allowed him to explain more subtly who he was and his role as a Messiah included suffering and death before eventual kingship of a different kind.
Although the author of this book lived before the time of Christ, the picture he presents suits this feast.
Psalm 92/93:1-2, 5
This is a short psalm in which God is described as a king, a theme from Jewish theology which the church has adopted, and adapted in this mass to the role of Jesus.
Our second reading is also in the apocalyptic style, although this selection which serves as an introduction to the book, has fewer extravagant symbols and comparisons than some other sections. It opens with a description of Jesus as a ‘faithful witness’, a role claimed by Jesus in the gospel reading.
While priests are often seen as a separate group in the church from the ‘laity’, here we have the description of ‘the priesthood of all believers’ (as also named in 1 Peter 2:9 which adds ‘declaring the acts of God’.) There are no details in Revelation of how we show this priesthood, but it suggests a general sense of offering worship to God and witnessing, as Jesus did by his sacrifice.
‘Ruler of the kings of the earth’ was a title claimed by Roman emperors, here the author suggests, it belongs more truly to Jesus Christ. The ‘coming on the clouds’ picks up Jesus’ words of the last days, as we heard last week from Mark (13:26). Those who were responsible for Jesus’ death (‘who pierced him’) will join all who ‘mourn’ for him, which may suggest in seeing Jesus as king, we are aware that for him this meant a painful death, freely accepted.
As the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Alpha and Omega stand for totality, further amplified as before, during and after ‘time’. The last words sum up the nature of the the Creator-Redeemer-Sanctifier as ‘the all-powerful’.
Throughout Year B we have had a number of readings from the last gospel, which does not have a year of its own, and now it provides the last reading of this liturgical year. After all the kingly glory and splendour spoken of in the earlier readings, we have a short account from the short but crucial dialog between Jesus and Pilate which will eventually lead to Pilate reluctantly sentencing him to death.
Pilate served the Roman emperor and would have been expected to put down any who proclaimed a rival kingship, but to him the conquered Jews must have seemed ridiculously pretentious in speaking of their own king. Jesus first describes what would have happened, if he had been a king in the manner Pilate thinks of. Like any earthly king, he would have had followers ready and able to fight for him. Instead, at his arrest, Jesus forbade his disciples to use the ‘power of the sword’ (John 18:11). He was determined ‘to drink the cup’ of suffering and death as coming from the will of his Father.
Pilate sounds puzzled in his responses, seeming to wonder what other kind of king there could be if ‘not of this world’. Jesus answer is that he has come to witness to the ‘truth’ – seen in this gospel as more than what is ‘factually correct’ but as the ultimate reality of everything. Jesus had told his disciples, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6). Then comes a simple reaction to this witness of Jesus Christ: if you are on the side of what is ‘really real’, you will be listening to him.
From this complex of readings today, we have the challenge first to realise what true power really is, and how it may be shown in the unexpected path of suffering. Then to listen to Jesus words, knowing him as ‘the Truth’. And finally, in his different kind of kingdom, to serve as its priests and as witnesses ourselves to its Lord and King.