Now but Not Yet
As we celebrate this last Sunday in Ordinary Time we honor Jesus Christ our King. We celebrate and look forward to his return in glory. Yet we also prepare to “start over” at the beginning as the season of Advent begins next weekend. So is it the end or the beginning? Well, it’s both. The kingdom of God which we celebrate is truly present “now,” but is also “not yet” fully here and is still coming. This is the tension that we live in as we continue our pilgrimage through time.
Our church building actually helps us to keep our focus on the end. When we enter the church building we are, for a brief period, leaving the outside world and are able to touch heaven. Whenever we gather for Mass, we come from the “not yet” of our everyday life, with all its sufferings and struggles, into the eternal “now” celebrated in the liturgy where heaven touches earth and Jesus Christ truly reigns as king. As we enter the church we may not think much about the door through which we enter, but it has a significance. In traditional architecture the door to a church is often designed the reflect that of the classical “triumphal arch” such as the Arch of Constantine in Rome with its three gates. This is to remind us that as we enter the church, we do so a victors. We are triumphant in the victory that Christ has won for us.
Our church building also points us to the “not yet” of Christ’s reign. We still await his return in glory. Churches used to be built facing toward the east and both the priest and the people faced east together in one procession. As the fathers of the Church teach, Jesus ascended to the east and promised to return just as he went. We look to the east with great expectation. Just as the sun rises in the east bringing the hope of a new day, so too we look to the east awaiting the new day of the return of the king. We likewise remember that the Garden of Eden was in the east and thus we are reminded here we are in exile and long for our true home with God.
While we eagerly await the return of Jesus Christ our King we also know that with his return comes judgement. As we look to the east we traditionally see on the wall the cross, the symbol of our victory. It reminds us that we have a king that gives us only the rules that will help us and, even when we break them, he takes the punishment on himself. We must do our part as we make our way through the “not yet” of this world, but God’s mercy also allows us to be eager in expecting the return of Jesus Christ the King.