Homily by Father Alex McAllister SDS
Today we come to the end of the Church's liturgical year. It is not so much that we go out with a bang as we have a final recapitulation of the important themes as in the finale of a great symphony.
One of the fundamentals of our faith is summed up in the very title of the feast itself, Christ the King.
If we consider the various creeds as summaries of our faith then the phrase 'Jesus is Lord' is regarded as the briefest summary of Christian belief. It is only a slight shift from ‘Jesus is Lord’ to 'Christ is our King'.
We find Christ's kingship very explicitly referred to in the liturgy of Palm Sunday. We find it also in the feast of the Epiphany and again in the events of his Passion.
The Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the wise men from the east who brought the infant Christ lavish gifts. We traditionally think of them as Kings, and certainly the presents they bring are full of the symbolism of kingship: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
On Palm Sunday we recall how Jesus went up to Jerusalem to bring his ministry to a climax riding on a donkey and hailed as King by a crowd of paupers.
In the Passion Narratives there are some very explicit references to Christ's kingship. The soldiers put the purple cloak and the crown of thorns on him in order to mock; but as so often with those who mock their actions betray much more than they ever realise.
Not only did they dress him in royal robes, but incredibly Pilate placed on his cross above his head the inscription 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews'. The irony of these things stagger us who realise the truth.
All these symbols tell us so much. They convey to people down the generations that Jesus was no ordinary King. He was the very King of Kings and the Lord of All.
But he is not the kind of King the world is used to. He has no trappings of power, no wealth, no servants, no army, no palace. He issues no edicts; he does not punish his enemies or worry about the right of succession.
And yet he is all that you could ever want in a King. He is a merciful King; he is a kind and generous King. He is a King who steps down from his throne to share the life of his subjects.
And above all he is a King who was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for our sake.
None of this comes as any surprise to us who are familiar with the Gospel, because we are used to things being turned upside down.
In the Kingdom of God the poor are brought to the top of the table, those who mourn rejoice, those who give away their last possessions receive riches beyond compare and so on.
If the Kingdom turns things upside down, then we must have an upside down King. And that is precisely what Christ is, an upside down King. He is a King who carries the wounds of suffering; a King who knows persecution, a King who had no home, a King ignored by the aristocracy and the powerful.
We have for our Gospel reading today the story of the crucifixion itself.
In his final exams at Oxford University Oscar Wilde was asked to translate this very passage. He did so flawlessly and with great panache. After a few paragraphs the professor who well knew Wilde’s ability put up his hand to stop him and said that was enough.
Wilde replied, ‘How disappointing, I want to see how it ends.’
Wilde was a wit and pretended that he did not now the Gospel story. But we certainly do know the story, and we know how it ends> But to the casual reader with no knowledge of the events it would seem as if Christ has taken the gamble and lost. In his death it would seem that the world rejects him.
Of course, we know different, we know that only some reject him and that even the rejection of his enemies is turned to the advantage of the whole of humanity.
If this great feast is a recapitulation of the fundamental beliefs about Jesus we have in the touching encounter between the man we call the good thief and Jesus a beautiful distillation of what we really want to say to him. 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'
It is a simple phrase, but breathtaking in its beauty and ability to capture just what we want to express ourselves.
If we were to make no other prayer to Jesus we could not do better that to make these words of the good thief our very own.
As a priest you are often present at the most important moment of a person’s life, the very moment of their death. And oftentimes these are the words that come to your lips as we speak and pray on behalf of the dying person: 'Jesus, remember him when you come into your kingdom.'
And what a wonderful message of hope in the response of Jesus at the very end of the liturgical cycle: 'Today you will be with me in paradise.'
It is surely no mistake that the Church chooses them to be the very last words of the Gospel on the very last Sunday of the year.
'Today you will be with me in paradise.' these words which are the fulfilment of all we could ever want, all we could ever hope for, ring in our ears.
And just like those poor folk seeing him enter Jerusalem on a donkey we want to cry out in reply, 'Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'
St Joseph's Catholic Church
191 High Road
18.00 (Vigil with Hymns)
09.30 (Family Mass)
11.00 (Solemn Mass)
12.30 (With Hymns)
Weekdays: 07.30 & 10.00
Confessions: Saturday 10.30-11.00 & 19.00-19.30
St Joseph's Catholic Church
T: 020 8427 1955
Saturday: 18.00 (Vigil with Hymns)
Sunday: 08.15, 09.30 (Family Mass), 11.00 (Solemn Mass), 12.30, 18.00
Weekdays: 07.30, 10.00 - additional mass every first Friday at 19.00
Saturday: 11.00 & 19.00-19.30
First Friday: 18.00-18.45
EXPOSITION & BENEDICTION
First Friday: 18.00-18-45