Christ the Victor

Today, I’m cheating by skipping ahead a few chapters in Revelation. I’m not sorry.

Get a load of this:

The King of Kings.

11 Then I saw the heavens opened, and there was a white horse; its rider was [called] “Faithful and True.” He judges and wages war in righteousness. 12 His eyes were [like] a fiery flame, and on his head were many diadems. He had a name inscribed that no one knows except himself. 1He wore a cloak that had been dipped in blood, and his name was called the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven followed him, mounted on white horses and wearing clean white linen. 15 Out of his mouth came a sharp sword to strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he himself will tread out in the wine press the wine of the fury and wrath of God the almighty. 1He has a name written on his cloak and on his thigh, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”

How does that compare with your image of Jesus? Maybe it’s better stated: How does that compare with your baseline image of Jesus? When you pray to Jesus, or proclaim his Gospel, are you thinking of a Jesus with fiery eyes, many crowns, a bloody cloak, and “King of kings and Lord of lords” tattooed on his thigh?

How do our different images of Jesus color the way we see the Christian life? When we emphasize suffering Jesus, are we more likely to expect or see suffering? When we think of Jesus’ gentleness with children and the downtrodden, I would bet we’re more inclined to think the Christian life is about service and self-gift. Does hearing about Jesus’ miracles make us more likely to pray for one in our own lives?

All of these senses logically follow from the subject matter. There are so many facets to Jesus (he is, well Son of the Creator) and consequently to our spiritual lives, since we are called to be imitators of Christ.

But how often do we reflect on that King of kings dimension of Jesus Christ?

I know that my prayer, confidence in evangelization, and desire to be bold all grow when I reflect on the above passage. Today’s readings (see, I still talked about them!) are all proclamations of God’s victory and faithfulness, and they provided just the right jolt of inspiration and hope for me during my early college years, where self-image and doubt were immense struggles. Jesus, in His powerful, victorious glory, became somebody I could aspire to be like and be happy to serve, and be proud of myself.

Does your faith make you proud of yourself? Does it give you self-confidence? It sounds silly to say, but I’ll say it anyway because it sometimes gets easy to believe this: Christ-like humility and a strong sense of self-worth are not mutually exclusive! In fact, a healthy self-image is crucial to a fully integrated life of faith! Where our imperfections and failures once may have crippled us, our worth comes from God and cannot be shaken.

We are called to be heirs to this glorious Kingdom and serve the all-powerful God who rules in victory over Satan and evil. That’s it. That’s the end of the story. Jesus Christ, the victory, riding in on a white stallion and laying waste to all that is not of God. I’m guessing that’s not your usual “prayer material”.

Take some time to reflect on Jesus Christ in His glorious victory today. I pray you let it mold how you view yourself and how you go about living out your faith.

The King of Glory and the Pink Bunny

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come.
Give glory to your Son, so that your son may glorify you,
just as you gave him authority over all people,
so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him —John 17:1-2

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I have two distinct memories of our second grade Christmas pageant.  The first is of the lyrics to The King of Glory which we sang with such joyful exuberance that we were marched through the hallway to the upper grade classrooms in hopes that they would catch some of our enthusiasm and volume.  “Who is this King of Glory, How shall we call Him?….Open the gates before Him, lift up your voices!”

The second was that I was forced, against my will, to wear in public a pink bunny costume for our tableau of Noah’s ark.  I had volunteered to be a bunny, imagining appearing soft, white, furry and adorable.  When my mother pulled out the entirely pink costume, I was aghast.  Bunnies are not supposed to be pink!  I would not, could not appear in something so obviously what a bunny should not look like.  It didn’t matter that I otherwise loved pink; it mattered that it was not a suitable color for a bunny.

I decided instead to wear a white turtleneck and tan pants, appropriate bunny colors, and to affix a cotton ball to my posterior to look like a real bunny.  My mother broke the rules and came to our classroom, where she conspired with my teacher to cover up my authentic costume with the horrific, fake, pink abomination.  I don’t think I even sang The King of Glory that night, my eyes filled with tears at the terrible humiliation and shame of wearing something that so obviously wasn’t right.

If I am amused as an adult at my youthful squeamishness and perfectionism, I have also come to realize that so much of Christmas is in fact neither fitting nor right.  That the King of Glory should be a helpless baby, confined by swaddling bands in a trough from which animals ate, is of course more incongruous than an oddly hued rabbit.

In his (highly, highly recommended) new book The Word Made Flesh: Foretold, Fulfilled, Forever, Father Richard Veras tells of the awe of the angels that see God in this tiny human baby.  “Who is this King of Glory?” they wonder, marveling that God would appear in a place and form so horribly beneath Him, so at odds with His power and glory.  But this awe is not just for Christmas he notes.

We focus so much on the descent of God, the humble lowering of Himself as He comes to earth with a full human nature.  We sometimes forget how much the angels must likewise marvel when human flesh ascends into heaven!

How surprised would seven-year-old-me have been to read Father Veras and learn that Psalm 24:7-10 (see full text below), on which our Christmas song The King of Glory was based, was believed by Church Fathers to be in fact about the Ascension.  Writes Father Veras:

The image proposed by these Fathers is that the angels ascending with Jesus are telling the angels in heaven to open the gates to the King of Glory.  But the angels guarding heaven’s gates question them.  For the ascending angels are accompanying a man of flesh and blood who bears wounds in his body.  That a man, that a human nature could be approaching the very throne of God causes the angels at the gates to ask again, “Who is this?” And the ascending angels, with great rejoicing, repeat their proclamation and verify that this man is indeed the King of Glory.1 [emphasis added]

Jesus is glorified not when He “finishes” His human life and returns to one that is purely divine.  Rather, He is glorified when in His human nature He is raised from the dead and then ascends into heaven.  Forever, the human and the divine are linked; humanity is now infused with unimaginable glory into eternity.  Fr. Veras quotes Jean Danielou, noting that:

 …the mystery of the Ascension is not that [the angels] are to adore the eternal Word—that is already the object of the liturgy—but rather that they are to adore the Word Incarnate; and that overturns all of heaven, just as the Incarnation revolutionized all of earth.” 2 [emphasis added]

C.S. Lewis believed that heaven and hell were not merely conditions of the afterlife, but conditions that begin in this life.  One can see a glimpse of this in the joy of the saints, or the horror and misery of great sinners.  Similarly, our own glorification, our union with the divine, begins with a transformation in this life, when with the power of the Holy Spirit we are changed to be more like Christ.  While we can wonder when merely human beings are given the power to heal, or speak in or interpret foreign tongues, or to prophesy, it is an even greater wonder when merely human beings can love like God, forgive like God, humble themselves like God.

At the beginning of the time the Opposition Voice told Eve that if they ate the forbidden fruit they would “be like God.”  Since then our image of God has been backwards, as have our attempts to imitate Him.  When we say of someone “he thinks he’s god” we are generally implying one who is arrogant, bossy, even tyrannical.  How unlike this image is the baby in Bethlehem, the gentle healer riding on an ass, the man who lets Himself be nailed by His hands and feet to the Cross.

As we continue in this space between the Feasts of the Ascensions and Pentecost, let us pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that God may be glorified through what we become, beginning now to be completed in eternity.

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I highly recommend that you read the entire book by Father Veras.  You can buy the kindle version on Amazon here or a paperback version through Magnifcat here.


Citations:

1 Veras, Richard. The Word Made Flesh. (New York: Magnicat Inc.,2017) pp. 174-5

2 In the second quotation from page 175, Father Veras quotes Jean Danielou:

Jean Danielou, The Angels and Their Mission According to the Fathers of the Church, tr. David Heimman.  (Allen, Tex.:Thomas More Publishing, 1987), 34.

Psalm 24:7-10

Lift up your heads, O gates:

rise up, you ancient portals,

that the king of glory may enter.

Who is this king of glory?

              The Lord, a mighty warrior

              the Lord, mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O gates:

              rise up, you ancient portals.

              that the king of glory may enter.

Who is this king of glory?

              The Lord the hosts is the king of glory.