Reflection on the Realm of Christ by Mart the Rev
‘Then Pilate entered the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over… But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ John 18:33-38
Do you agree that we can talk more easily about Jesus the man than about Jesus the ‘Ascended Lord’ who sits at the right hand of the Father? We hear stories told of him and we like the way he saw the world. We are drawn to him – we take up the call to follow him. We seek to live like him. We are part of a community that lives in his way and reveres him. So far, we can do all of those things and not attend to the risen and ascended dimensions of Jesus that are unfolded in the scriptures. But these other dimensions to who Christ is are also part of the story! Actually all of the New Testament scriptures are written with that mind-set and with that presupposition. The only Jesus in the minds of the Gospel writers was the Incarnate ‘walk around the earth Jesus who was crucified under Pontius Pilate’ and the Risen and Ascended Jesus who is Lord of all.
Thus at the end of the Church Year – in the week before Advent Sunday, the church around the world reckons with the bigness of Jesus – the incarnate and ascended Lord of heaven and earth – Christ the King.
The Scriptures never gave us permission to focus on only one part of him as if there can be a separation between the earthly and the heavenly. Everything has to be held together. For the Christian Community Jesus is the Word that spoke over the waters of the deep at the dawn of time, and he is the Word become flesh that pitched a tent among us, and he is the ‘rebel of grace’ who taught of God’s radical reign among us, and he is the crucified Lord who died among thieves, and he is the Risen Lord who was raised – God knows how, and he is the Ascended Lord who rules over all creation, and he is present still by the gift of his Holy Spirit who calls the church into being and calls this church to be his bride and bestows on her grace and truth.
That’s the witness.
‘Long ago in many ways and at many times God’s prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. But now at last, God sent his Son to bring his message to us. God created the universe by his Son, and everything will someday belong to the Son. God’s Son has all the brightness of God’s own glory and is like him in every way. By his own mighty word, he holds the universe together.’ Hebrews 1:1-3a
You might want to agree or disagree or compartmentalise the witness of the Scriptures into pieces you can cope with, but just be clear that whatever you are doing, you are undermining the collective witness of the scriptures and the church through the ages. Just be clear. Just be clear that the parts you might be uncomfortable with and that you find difficult to explain are the very things that are assumed in all the writings of the New Testament. The confession we are called to make, that Jesus is Lord, embraces all of this – incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus reigns.
The language of ‘reigning’ is problematic. The phrase ‘Christ the King’ quickly leads us to the human experience of kings… power, hierarchy, opulence, a king or queen ‘lording over’ his or her subjects, and scandals in the royal court. The same goes for the kingdom language. If we are to talk about the kingship of Jesus, can we find a way to talk about it that reflects the things he taught us about how to live in the way of God? Ways of living that embrace servanthood; love of enemies; forgiving seventy times seven; the last being first; and so on. I don’t think we have many human examples of that kind of reigning!
Interestingly, the ‘kingdom of God’ phrase that Jesus used so often does not translate easily from the original Greek into English. In the Greek it is Basileia tou Theou. Theos is God. But basileia is not masculine. It is actually a feminine form of the masculine word for the reign of a king – basileus. A more accurate translation of Basileia tou Theou might be Queen-dom of God. How about that!
The point being made in the gospel account is that the way of God is not like our ways. Our ways of understanding God are not easily encapsulated in our language forms. We have no other language for God than the language we have – thus the nuances that subvert our usual ways of understanding are vital tools to widen our view into the landscape of God among us. Basileia tou Theou is one such nuance.
I am slowly working on changing my language when talking about God’s ways breaking into ours. I am less and less comfortable with the term kingdom of God. Don’t get me wrong, I am not dumping it – in fact, I think that the ‘kingdom of God concept’ Jesus is talking about is everything – but the language I am using is changing. The ‘reign of God’ is better – it is neither masculine or feminine, but it does address the place God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, holds at the centre. The term ‘the realm of God’ might be better still in that it opens up the widest vista of possibility – Christ is Lord of everything in heaven and on earth. The following readings from Philippians 2:6-11 and Revelation 5:13 invite us to enter the widest possible vista of understanding this realm of Christ:
‘Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God. Instead he gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us. Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross. Then God gave Christ the highest place and honoured his name above all others. So at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”’
‘Then I heard all beings in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea offer praise. Together, all of them were saying, “Praise, honour, glory, and strength forever and ever to the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”’
I am interested in the realm of Christ being described as in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. For these ancients, the ‘under’ – be it under the earth or under the sea was a place of great danger because that was where the evil spirits lurked and broke out from time to time in order to entangle us ‘above earth’ dwellers. With such a worldview, it was easy to make dualisms or separations – above-below, spirit-matter, holy-evil, tapu-noa, good-bad, godly-ungodly, faithful-sinful. But in the realm of Christ everything is reconfigured. The realm of Christ is in and through everything and love opens the window for our understanding. If there is no love, then it is not living into the realm of Christ…
Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better. It doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.’ Colossians 3:10-14
This realm has been here since the beginning of time, is among us, and is to come. This is the witness of the Scriptures and the witness of the church through the ages. On this last Sunday of the Church Year we recall in whose realm we live and move and have our being. We end the year with a shout of praise and hope – praise for what we are caught up in even if we don’t understand it all that well, and even if we don’t live into it especially well – and hope because it is the framework for whatever is next in our lives and the story of God at work in the whole cosmos through Christ Jesus. Our shouts of praise and hope proclaim the triumph of God – they get caught up in the voices of those who have gone before us and they flow ahead for those who are to come as the story unfolds for us as we go quiet and listen again to the magic and mystery of Advent…
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be [part of his realm] …, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’ Revelation 1:4b-6