November 21, 2021, Feast of Christ the King
During a late persecution, a Jewish author encourages his people with stories of Daniel, a brave ancestor who stood up to persecutors. Daniel shared strange visions of God's ultimate triumph.
Somewhat like the book of Daniel, a Christian writer, in a time of persecution, shares a vision of Christ triumphant.
The gospel of John gives a carefully nuanced rendering of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection as a "lifting up", that is, as a royal enthronement.
The Theological and Literary Background: The book's audience believed God is active in history, guiding events for the long-term good of the People, even if persecutions and hardship reign in the short term. One expression of this faith is to predict mighty future acts of God, fantastic catastrophes in which the oppressors of God's people will be overthrown and judged, and the faithful will be vindicated at last. To veil their revolutionary content from the oppressors, these predictions were usually coded in symbolic language, and set in the indeterminate future. So they're known as "revelations," or, to use a word of Greek origin for the same idea, "apocalyptic" literature. The veiled language also emphasizes that only God really knows the future, and controls it. We saw some of this in last week's readings. Another device in apocalyptic writing is the dreamlike vision, such as today's passage.
Chapters 7-12 of Daniel contain many fine examples of apocalypse. Of special interest in today's passage is the title Son of Man. In the era when this was written, "son of man" is what you called any man, like we call men "sir" today. The figure in this vision, "one like a son of man," receives a kingly commission from one who is not human, the Ancient One (in older translations and hymns, "Ancient of Days"). In Daniel's scheme, of course, the son of man is to replace the oppressive rule of the persecutors with a permanent regime favorable to God's people. (The persecutors appear in the form of beasts in verses of Daniel 7 not in the lectionary selection.)
The gospels often show Jesus using the title "Son of Man" for himself. If Jesus is just using the term in its ordinary sense, we might say he's stressing his humanity, his identity with other human beings. If he's using it in the sense given in this passage of Daniel, Jesus is stressing his special relationship with the Father and his divine authority.
Proclaim this as if you are Daniel, or as if the vision is your own. You want to communicate the vision in order to bolster the hopes and dignity of your people. Their hope and dignity are not limited by their present circumstances. Their hope and dignity come from their alliance with the divinely commissioned Son of Man. So stress "His dominion is an everlasting dominion, that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed."
The Theological and Literary Background: The New Testament Book of Revelation has the same apocalyptic character as Daniel, although that's not very evident from today's short selection. Its readers were persecuted, and the author wants to bolster their faith. To the description of Jesus given here, apply what was said above about the Son of Man and his commission from the Ancient of Days.
"Alpha" and "Omega" are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, the original language of this book. Giving Jesus the Alpha title reminds us of the first theme of John's gospel: That Jesus is the Word of God, pre-existing with the Father before all creation. (The author of Revelation calls himself John and is clearly familiar with the gospel of John the apostle and evangelist). To call Jesus the Omega is to say that he'll be in charge at the end of the world.
Proclaiming It: Even though this passage occurs in the beginning of the Book of Revelation, it sounds like a lawyer's summation, the final argument before the jury at trial's end. So you must sound very emphatic, yet dignified, when you conclude the second long sentence, "to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen."
Then pause. Be sure you know what is meant by "those who pierced him." Hint: read today's gospel, John 18:33b-37. (There's a great and very instructive irony in the pairing of that discussion of kingship with today's first and second readings.)
Pause again after "Yes. Amen." Then assume the voice of the divine Christ Jesus. The author wanted his audience to take comfort and confidence from hearing this. Say it slowly, with all the majesty you'd expect to hear in the voice of Jesus at history's end.
The Word of Life mural on one of the Hesburgh Libraries, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, U.S.A., installed 1964. It's the work of artist Millard Sheets, who is quoted on Notre Dame's page about the mural:
What they asked me to do was to suggest in a great processional the idea of a never-ending line of great scholars, thinkers, and teachers - saints that represented the best that man has recorded, and which are found represented in a library. The thought was that the various periods that are suggested in the theme have unfolded in the continuous process of one generation giving to the next. I put Christ at the top with the disciples to suggest that He is the great teacher - that is really the thematic idea.
In a google images search, I found this photo credited to will.illinois.edu, the website of the public radio and television stations of the University of Illinois. The page does not carry the image, but has links to it in meta tags associated with Google, Open Graph and Twitter. Of all the photos I found, I prefer this because it places the icon in context, a library in a major university, busy with students, teachers and researchers.
Click here for a very striking, large scale nighttime image of the mural by Michael Fernandes. The page contains links to six versions of the image, in various sizes.
This page updated September 29, 2021