Sunday, November 13, 2016

Reign of Christ: Hark!

The last Sunday of the liturgical year, Reign of Christ (C), is a day of power. Christ is on the throne, every knee has bowed and every tongue has confessed that he is Lord. Justice and righteousness are flowing, death and evil and tears have no place. The heavenly banquet is underway. Long live the King!

One of the things that every medieval ruler needed was a herald. Literary works as diverse as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Shakespeare's Henry V put heralds within close proximity to rulers.
In Wonderland, the white rabbit carries a trumpet in one hand and a scroll in the other as he stands near the King and Queen of Hearts (chapter 11):
'Herald, read the accusation!' said the King.
On this the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and then unrolled the parchment scroll...
It is Montjoy, herald of the king of France, who comes to England's Henry V in his camp before the battle that will be known as the Battle of Agincourt. He offers Henry the option of paying ransom and avoiding the battle. The offer is refused and Montjoy agrees to relay Henry's answer and concludes saying, "And so fare thee well. Thou never shalt hear herald any more."

The role of the herald in medieval Europe changed over the centuries. In varying times, heralds served as a sort of master of ceremonies at tournaments. They carried messages from one king or noble to another. They acted as diplomats for noble households. In almost all their duties, they needed to recognize the colors and arms of noble and royal houses. It is from that aspect that the field of heraldry - the identification, design and registration of coats of arms and other armorial insignia - developed.

So who acts as herald to Jesus the king? In the Hans Memling's painting below, it is a familiar figure: herald angels, carrying/playing their herald trumpets. The painting shows Christ at the center flanked by three singing angels on his left and three on his right and then further flanked by angel musicians. The trumpeting herald angels mirror one another in the fifth position (counting out from Christ at the center). In this painting Christ holds the orb and scepter and his crown echoes the idea of the earth with the cross surmounting it.

Hans Memling. Christ with Singing and Music-making Angels. 1480s. Antwerp: Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten.

This is neither the first nor the last time we will associate herald angels with Christ. We sing of them at Christmas, of course, when the king is born. And in Revelation, it is trumpeting angels who herald the disasters that are to come when the king returns.

These heavenly heralds are only one answer to the question Who acts as herald to Jesus? Another answer is John the Baptist. Still another answer is (or should be) all who follow him. Remember the old hymn "Tell Me the Stories of Jesus"? It contains the line: One of his heralds, yes, I would sing loudest hosannas, "Jesus is King!"

For additional thoughts on the Reign of Christ, click here, here, or here

Here is a flock of herald angels. Click on the Art&Faith Matters Facebook link below to find out where it is.

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