Time is a slippery concept, yet it is a deeply embedded constituent of reality. In essence, time is a function of change. This is demonstrated easily by thinking about how we measure one second on a traditional clock: the movement of the second hand from one little hash mark to the next, going right to left. Or, as the Smothers Brothers sang years ago: “Whatever happened to time? It doesn’t come around anymore. The last time that I saw time, it was walking out the door.”
In one very reductive and sobering sense, our mortal lives are made up of nothing but time. We speak of killing time, managing time, spending our time, well or poorly, which just goes to show that this is a matter of no small significance. How you spend your time is the best way to see what your priorities are and what matters to you, even revealing, at least to some extent, your view of the meaning and purpose of your life. As we celebrate today the Solemnity of Christ the King, which is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, our readings draw our attention to the end of time.
Our first reading, taken from the Book of Daniel, explains in crisp, clear, and easy to grasp language that “one like a Son of man” will receive “dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14). This is made even clearer by our Psalm response, “The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty” (Ps. 93:1). Who is this “one like a Son of man” who “is king… enrobed in majesty”? It is none other than Jesus Christ.
In this Year of Faith, called by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, to better hear, receive, and appropriate the teachings of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in the life of the Church, this prophecy from Daniel concerning Christ’s kingship draws us to the Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum: “God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New” (par.16 ). Our reading today from the Book of Daniel is a case of the New Testament being hidden, if only partially, in the Old. This points us directly toward our second reading, from the last book of the New Testament, one we rarely hear proclaimed in our liturgical assembly, Revelation.
The Book of Revelation, also known in the tradition as “Apocalypse” (which means “unveiling” so as to reveal, or show), is several things at once. It “is a book of apocalyptic visions and a work of prophecy, but it is also a third thing: a letter” (Mangina, Revelation 41). In the first instance, it is a letter to the seven churches of Asia Minor and, secondly, to us. Taking a cue from both the sixth and seventh verses of the first chapter of Revelation, which make up two of the four verses of today’s second reading, both which end with the liturgical “Amen,” we are placed “in the atmosphere of early Christian worship,” which was “an eschatological atmosphere permeated by a longing for Christ’s future coming” (41).
At the center of Christian worship “is the God who is one, but one by being three – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (41). In verse eight, the final verse of our reading from Revelation, which begins with “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” we hear for the first time in Revelation God’s voice, speaking through the prophet to whom the revelation is being given. It has been observed, “This act of self-naming brings God dangerously close,” indicating that worship is a dangerous act.
In a book of essays and reflections entitled Teaching a Stone How to Talk, author Annie Dillard evokes the danger of worship of the true and living God, “the one who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1:8):
Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never returnThis danger was not lost on early Christians, who daily lived in “the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” It is God’s purpose this very day, the Sunday we most look forward to the end of time, through this liturgy, to draw each of us to a place from whence we can never return, His glorious kingdom, where Jesus Christ, who already reigns, will rule forever and ever.
To acknowledge Christ as King it is necessary for you to desire to live truthfully, in a place where all falsity and illusion, especially those you cling to about yourself are melted away. Pilate’s response in today’s Gospel is instructive: he did not desire the truth because it meant not being able to set his own terms, even as the Truth literally looked him in the face. If we’re honest with ourselves, we suffer from this same problem. We are willing to accept some truth, as long it’s our truth, either one we dictate or at least agree to accept. But this isn’t really truth at all. Our resistance to truth, which is perhaps the most powerful evidence of original sin, goes some distance towards explaining what Revelation goes on to unfold in great and terrifying detail, especially in chapter seventeen, that Christ can only reveal Himself fully at the end, with the termination of riches, status, power, and pleasure all those urges that so dominate our human motivations.
So, at end of yet another year of grace, as we once again move together toward Advent, along with our ancient forbearers in faith (at least those who are now in heaven), we pray that dangerous Aramaic word meaning “O Lord, come!” a word we encounter in the last verse of Revelation, Maran- atha. We do this so that our worship, too, creates an “atmosphere permeated by a longing for Christ’s [glorious] coming” (Mangina 41).