As we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King and prepare to enter the season of Advent the Church’s liturgy turns our attention towards to final coming of Christ. Today’s first reading from the prophet Daniel is almost a continuation of last Sunday’s passage which spoke about the final battle between good and evil. In this Sunday’s reading Daniel sees, “one like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven.” The second reading from Revelation uses similar imagery of Christ “coming amid the clouds.” Indeed, each Sunday we profess in the creed this glorious return of Jesus who “will come again … to judge the living and the dead.”
But what kind of Judge is Jesus? In a recent address Pope Francis commented on a painting in the church where he was speaking. Making reference to today’s gospel of Jesus before Pilate, the Holy Father said, “we contemplate the transformation of the Christ judged by Pilate into the Christ seated on the throne of judges. An Angel brings Him the sword, but Jesus does not assume the symbols of judgment, in fact, He raises His right hand showing the signs of the Passion, because He ‘gave Himself as a ransom for all’ (1 Timothy 2:6). ‘For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him’ (John 3:17).”
The one who comes on the clouds of glory to judge the world is a merciful Judge. In fact, Pope Francis reminds us, he is “the face of mercy.” It is the face of a God who has emptied himself and taken the form of a slave, accepting even death on a cross (Cf. Philippians 2:7). It is the face of a God who has given his very self to save us from sin and death. In Pilate’s courtroom Jesus did not receive mercy, but an unjust condemnation. Yet he accepts this merciless sentence precisely in order to pour out his mercy upon all humanity.
Last Sunday a special Mass was celebrated at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris for the victims of the terrorist attacks in that city. One of the most moving moments of Mass was the Kyrie (Lord, have mercy) taken from a famous Requiem Mass by the French composer, Maurice Durufle. As the choir implored God’s mercy the whole assembly turned toward the cross in the sanctuary, including the Archbishop and all the clergy. The large golden cross is barren with the Pieta (Mary holding the dead Christ) at the base. It was at once a deep expression of grief and a cry of hope in the mercy of Christ, who alone can heal the wounds of sin and division.
This week we celebrate Thanksgiving and in two weeks we will begin an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Among the many blessings for which we can give thanks let us be mindful of God’s mercy. Because of this mercy we have hope and joy even amid the troubles and sorrows of this world. Because of Divine Mercy we can always and everywhere give thanks – most especially this Thanksgiving Day!