Coming into his Kingdom

I bought this postcard of the tympanum over the door of the cathedral of St Trophime in Arles, in the south of France, in 1964. This twelfth century sculpture shows Jesus enthroned, surrounded by the four living creatures of Revelation (4:6-8) who, from the time of Irenaeus in the second century, came to represent the four gospels. The whole semi-circular piece is bordered by angels (above) and saints (below). Sometimes described as a depiction of the last judgement, it is more likely to be a celebration of Christ who has ‘come into his kingdom’ – to use the words of the good thief (Luke 23:42).

This week we celebrate the Ascension, an awkward feast only mentioned by Luke, that seems to slip in as an interval between the great events of Easter, the victory over sin and death, and Pentecost, the gift of divine life to all who welcome it. I say ‘awkward’ because, we might ask, what does it add to the great event of Easter and the completion of the Lord’s revelation at Pentecost?

Well, it adds the understanding of the fullness of majestic power. The Son of Man, born in a cattle shed, has carried our burdens – the joys and sorrows of human existence – right through to his passion and death. He has broken the bonds that limit every human being and has now come into his kingdom. The modern mind is not comfortable with ideas of kingship but the European mind of the Middle Ages was fertile in its imagination of what kingship meant. The medievals were surrounded by kings.

Ignatius of Loyola, in the sixteenth century, studded his book of Spiritual Exercises with scenes where we are invited to imagine ourselves ‘in the presence of the eternal king, Christ our Lord. What would I say to him?’ And what would he say to me? Our modern minds are not to be distracted by rosy pictures of royalty, such as some of us may have witnessed earlier this month at the coronation of King Charles. On the contrary, what we have here is an exercise in imagination that is to lead to a real contemplation of our world today. ‘Thy kingdom come!’ We look around and ask, does our world reflect the kind of world God wants his people to enjoy?

Celebrating the Ascension is a moment when we call to mind the final triumph of Jesus in his earthly life. His kingdom has come. But not fully. We still have work to do.

21 May 2023    The Ascension     Acts 1:1-11    Eph 1:17-23    Mt 28: 16-20





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