Cover of The Imitation of Christ
©2009, Randall A. Beeler
The whole life of Christ was a cross and martyrdom, and dost thou seek for thyself rest and joy? Thou art wrong, thou art wrong, if thou seekest aught but to suffer tribulations, for this whole mortal life is full of miseries, and set round with crosses. And the higher a man hath advanced in the spirit, the heavier crosses he will often find, because the sorrow of his banishment increaseth with the strength of his love. (Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, II.12.7)
Today is the Feast of Christ the King which literally crowns the end of the Church's Liturgical year by looking at our present time in light of the end of time when Jesus shall return in glory and be recognized as the King that His cross has already made Him.
Christ's crowning achievement is what the world esteems as His disaster, for what the world crowns and what Christ crowns are diametrically opposed:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5-12, RSV)
On your left and on your right
Crosses are green and crosses are blue
Your friends didn't make it through.
Out of the night and out of the dark
Into the fire and into the fight
Well that's the way the heroes go, Ho! Ho! Ho!
… The music's playing, the notes are right
Put your left foot first and move into the light.
The edge of this hill is the edge of the world
And if you're going to cross you better start doing it right
better start doing it right (Genesis, "Dance On A Volcano")
The British band, Genesis' "Dance On A Volcano" exemplifies the world's attitude toward crosses—we are to dodge them if we are to "start doing it right."
For Christ, the only Right—and the only crowning achievement fit for the dignity of the human person—is to bear the Cross to victory over death. Christ's Passion and Resurrection reveal why He is worthy to be the only true King:
Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. 8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Rev 1:5-8, RSV)
Christ's Cross guarantees that Jesus Christ is not a King Who stares down from afar at us, judging us, demanding fealty.
When Christ looks down, He does so from the depths of our fear and loathing of death, death on the Cross—and thereby stares down our sin and suffering, bearing it for us. When He calls for loyalty, He does so in calling us to our dignity, to share in His work of reconciling all things to Himself, all things that are alienated by our original and continued rebellion:
For in him all the fulness [sic] of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, 23 provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col 1:19-24, RSV)
We must wonder how Satan could not have seen what was coming on the Cross. Lucifer's very goading us to whip, beat, and crucify our Lord and Savior brings about the healing of everything the Satan seeks to divide and destroy.
A pretender and the father of lies, Lucifer falls into his own deception. Oh, his lies can goad us to denigrate ourselves and others, and to lie for, cheat for, and steal the goods and securities of this world.
But Christ lies about nothing when he lies down on the Cross. The stretching out and nailing of His beautiful limbs tells the Truth of our situation, straining between the cross-purposes of heaven and earth. Come rack, come rope, come the Christ! For the crowning achievement of our sojourn in this time-space realm is not to dance around the crosses on our volcanic path, but to kiss and embrace each and everyone of them.
Why, though, must we face such suffering? Why must this be our lot?
God permits suffering so that we might see the Face of Christ especially in our worst moments. For we desperately need to know His Face, to greet His Face, to cherish It.
Any earthly king can sit on His throne in victory, but, as the World-Champion Yankees know all-too-well, right after the ticker-tape parade confetti has fallen to the ground, the world asks, "What have you done for me lately?" Where are our presidents and kings and MVPs and celebrities and 401Ks when we are stretched out on the rack of suffering, square in the cross-hairs of the evil one?
On Christ's crowning Cross, we see the Face of God—and our faces. We must come to know His Face in order to know our own true selves (cf. 1Cor 13:, RSV). If we do not admit to our flesh the splinters and nails of this world's suffering, how are we ever to recognize Christ's Face when, free of anguish and bruises and blood, He welcomes us into a bliss eternally free of our self-imposed anguish, bruising, and bleeding?
Will we love Him?
The creatures came rushing on, their eyes brighter and brighter as they drew nearer and nearer to the standing Stars. But as they came right up to Aslan one or other of two things happened to each of them. They all looked straight in his face, I don't think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly—it was fear and hatred … And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow … But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan's right. (C. S. Lewis, from The Last Battle)
The definition of human dignity is the imago Dei, the image of God. We most resemble our God and Father when we, in the Spirit of His Son, embrace the Cross, knowing the arms of the Cross eternally stretch out to all points, north and south, east and west, to an eternity of Joy in Him, Our One True Purpose, Our One True Savior, Our Once, Always, Now and Future King:
If indeed there had been anything better and more profitable to the health of men than to suffer, Christ would surely have shown it by word and example. For both the disciples who followed Him, and all desire to follow Him, He plainly exhorteth to bear their cross, and saith, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me. So now that we have thoroughly read and studied all things, let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. (Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ II.12.15)