The Reign of Christ (proper 29) November 26, 2006.
On this day, at the end of the church year, we celebrate the power and the majesty of Christ. We dare to name Christ as the ruler of all rulers. We pledge our allegiance to Christ and by our baptism are made citizens of Christ's dominion. On this day, we declare the power of Christ, a power known not in domination, violence, or hierarchy but in vulnerability, service, and love. This one whom we name as king is radically other than all the rulers ever known. And through Christ who reigns, both now and forever, we are given life, hope, and freedom.
The Daniel reading is from the first of his apocalyptic visions. The scene is set at a place of judgment. God is depicted with white hair and white clothing, designating both age and purity. Fire provides another familiar symbolic connection to the power and holiness of God. Remember the burning bush and Ezekiel's vision of the flames and the wheels (Ezek 1:4, 15-21; 10:9-17).
With its books open, the court was set for judgment. This image of a book is common in apocalyptic language and in the imaginings of God in judgment. We read of it in Mal 3:16, "the Lord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name," and in Rev 20:12, "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. And another book was opened, the book of life."
Into this scene of judgment descends a person, in likeness of a son of man (ben 'adam). The term itself, "son of man," was often used in prophetic and apocalyptic literature to denote the mortality of a person. Within the vision and the interpretation given in Dan 7:27, this son of man was the symbolic representation of "the people of the holy ones of the Most High." Within this text itself, it would be a bit presumptuous to claim that this son of man was a messianic figure, as the vision and its interpretation speak otherwise. However, in later Jewish apocalyptic literature, and clearly within Christian scriptures, the term "son of Man" is used for the Messiah. (20)
In Revelation 1, John of Patmos leaves little doubt about the majestic and complete reign of God. This is the lens through which the world and all of our experiences must be seen. The verbs that describe the work of Jesus are interesting. All are participles, but with different tenses. Jesus loves us ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], present participle), and this loving is a present and continuing action. Jesus frees us ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], aorist participle), so this saving has happened already; the action is complete.
Besides loving us and giving us freedom from sin, Jesus has made us to be a kingdom. These are powerful words, particularly to the early Christian community who were persecuted by the present kingdom of the Roman Empire. By naming Jesus the "ruler of all Kings," the writer places the faithful into a wholly separate kingdom. John of Patmos liberates and sets apart the people from the empire. This is a radical shift in identity that breaks open a new way of being even within the oppression of the empire. These words state clearly: There is one king, named Jesus Christ, and because of what Jesus has done our kingdom is with Jesus.
In the Gospel of John the whole passion, from death to resurrection, is part of Jesus' glorification. The death of Jesus is part of his giving his life for his friends. It is a life that he lays down on his own accord, which will bring glory not only to God but also to God's people.
With control and authority, Jesus never directly answers any of Pilate's questions. Instead, he directs the conversation as he would have it, telling Pilate in language Pilate might understand about who Jesus is. Jesus says, "my kingdom is not from this world" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). It is not a kingdom that is totally set apart from the world but is rather on wholly different terms.
When Jesus speaks of his subjects, he uses the word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which has been used throughout chapter 18 to describe the temple guards and officials, including the one who struck Jesus in v. 22. If Jesus' dominion were of this world, it would be made of guards and officers, but the evangelist makes it clear that Jesus' dominion is made of friends in mutual service.
With all of his "I am" statements in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus never says, "I am King." Instead, he offers throughout new ways of imagining community and his life-giving power: "I am the Good Shepherd." "I am the resurrection and the life." "I am the living water." Never are these images weak or lacking divine and saving power, but they are not dependent on power structures and hierarchies of our world. Jesus' images of the divine power are about giving water to the Samaritan woman, raising the dead, and washing his disciples' feet.
Jesus tells Pilate, "I was born and came into this world for one thing: to bear witness to the truth. And anyone who is from the truth hears my voice." This draws us back to Jesus as the Gatekeeper and Good Shepherd. "The sheep follow him because they know his voice" (John 10:4). It was in this discourse that Jesus laid out his death: "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep ... no one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own accord" (John 10:11,18). We also are drawn into another statement Jesus made about himself, "I am the way, the truth and the life." It is Jesus who is the truth; this is the essence of his dominion.
As Raymond E. Brown wrote in his commentary on John, "Jesus does not deny that he is king, but it is not a title that he would spontaneously choose to describe his role." (21) So it is with us as we seek to name the radical and transformative power of Christ in this world. Yet, we are wholly limited by our language and our world.
The word "king" doesn't quite fit while it is so associated with power-over, domination, and patriarchy. Yet, in using it, we claim that Jesus Christ holds dominion over all powers and rulers in this world. Our citizenship is with this Jesus who is Truth, who rules by love and self-giving, and whose reign is characterized by mutuality, friendship, and service.
In preaching on this Reign of Christ day, it would be easy to make Christ into a king that the world would recognize and make ourselves into subjects in a hierarchical and triumphalist kingdom. But the promise I read in these texts is of a reign of mutuality. Because Christ loves us and freed us we are brought into this whole new reign, already. Despite the nations and ideologies around us that speak of power through violence and domination and claim us within them, we live as citizens of Christ's reign of service, forgiveness, and mutuality. In Christ, we are constituted as a new sort of community, with allegiance to Christ. SKO
20. Louis F. Hartman, C.SS.R. The Book of Daniel, Anchor Bible Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977), 219.
21. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (xiii-xxi), Anchor Bible Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970), 853-54.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Author:||Olson, Sara K.|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2006|
|Previous Article:||Day of thanksgiving November 23, 2006.|
|Next Article:||From Russia, in hope.|