The language of the Church is the language of mystery, and while this is often taken to mean that the Church speaks in a ways that are incomprehensible or difficult to understand, mystery doesn’t really mean that at all. What it does mean is that what the Church has to say is, more often than not, a provocation to silence. Words give way to rituals and these rituals express truths that are deeper than speech.
So it is especially today. The words of the narrative of Christ’s suffering and death are meant to give way to silence, and that silence is meant to give way to prayer- and that prayer is meant to compel us to a decision.
And yet the Church insists that her priests speak some words in the wake of the proclamation of today’s Gospel. The priests are to say something brief about the awe filled mystery of Christ’s suffering and death. Here goes:
The Gospel present many things about the Lord Jesus and people prefer some things the Gospel presents more then others. Some prefer the presentation of Christ as our brother and friend, a teacher of ethics and commentator on philosophical and religious themes. Others will only listen to the politics, history and culture in the Gospel and little if anything else.
Yet, more important than our preferences is what the Gospel intends to tell us about the Lord Jesus, and what the Gospels tell us is that he is Priest, Prophet and King- how Christ is precisely these three things is what the testimony of the Gospel is all about.
The world has its share of priests, prophets and kings. They exist as overlords in all the great political, economic and cultural systems and they are the great ones who make their greatness felt in the world and in our own lives- the celebrities, financiers and politicians. In the time of Christ these priests, prophets and kings wielded great power and though they look different now, they still rule- for we choose for them to rule over us- and we make this choice out of necessity, self-interest or desire.
In the real, lived experience of the failures of the world’s priests, prophets and kings the Bible presents a people who cries out to God for deliverance and a God who promises to be our deliverer.
God keeps his promise and in an extraordinary move that was totally unexpected, he accepts a human nature with all its implications and reveals himself to be the one true Priest, Prophet and King.
This was supposed to be what we wanted, what we longed for, what we prayed for- but as God in Christ lived among us, the reality of the kind of Priest, Prophet and King he is, became more distressing and problematic. Why? Because it became clear that if we accepted him as our priest, prophet and king- not only would we have to change, but the world would have to change, and if this change happened a lot of people would have an awful lot to lose- or so they believed.
There was just too much to risk in terms of change and so the worldly powers, (priests, prophets and kings), conspired with dark spiritual powers, and answered God in Christ’s invitation of deliverance with a sentence of torture and death, which oddly enough, he accepted.
Because the Lord Jesus is God, he knew that we couldn’t really kill him, and he used that sentence of torture and death as a means of revealing the truth about the world’s priests, prophets and kings that we so often prefer to rule over us. He showed us that too many of them, compromised by sin and self-interest, deliver us into the tyranny of idols, flatter us with lies, and rather than offering their lives to us as servants of what is good, true and beautiful, they become taskmasters, taking away our lives, threatening us with death if we do not comply with their demands.
If we prefer worldly priests, prophets and kings, what we get are idols, lies and death. That’s the judgment of the cross on the world and on us.
That’s what Christ’s Cross reveals about worldly priests, prophets and kings, but this is not the only revelation of his Cross- there is something else.
Christ’s Cross also reveals what we receive if we prefer God in Christ as our priest, prophet and king. If we do, we get a priesthood that leads us into true worship, a worship that invites us to receive the divine life and presence of God- not idols. If Christ is our Priest, we receive a route of access to the one, true God that frees us from the tyranny of false gods.
If we prefer Christ as our Prophet, we get a prophecy that tells us the truth and a Prophet who delivers us from, not only the lies of the false prophets of the world, but from our own self-deception.
And if we prefer Christ as our King, we get a King, a King who, unlike the kings of the world doesn’t just take life, but gives us life- and gives us, not just any life, but his own divine life.
Our refusal of Christ looks like the cross. Our acceptance of Christ looks like a life that is willing to change.
What kind of king do we want or do we prefer? Or priest for that matter? Or prophet?
Do we want the Lord Jesus? Or are the kings, priests and prophets of the world- the celebrity, the politician or financier- the idol-makers, the liars, and the death-dealers, what we really want?
Today, we are provoked to silence, and in that silence invited to pray. Why the silence? Why the prayer? Because we are all being compelled, by the cross of the Lord Jesus, to make our decision.