Releasing the Potential of the Christ
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Unlike some other special days on the church calendar such as Pentecost, Christmas and Easter, this celebration is relatively new. It was established by Pope Pius IX in 1925, less than a century ago. The Pope initiated this day because the people of the day had, in his words, “thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives” so that “these had no place in public affairs or in politics.” The pope went on to claim “that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Saviour, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.” No doubt, Pope Pius would be very disappointed to discover that, 94 years later, little has changed as a result of his initiative.
When I reflect on the themes of this day, the image that comes to mind is the classic Eastern Orthodox icon of Christ the Pantocrator with its haunting left eye (left). The word “Pantocrator” is often translated as “All-powerful,” but I’m not sure that it is altogether helpful to portray Jesus in the role of Pantocrator, the all-powerful king, if for no other reason than I think Jesus would be appalled at the notion. He almost certainly did not think of himself as any kind of a monarch, and he refused the exercise of power; rather, he saw himself as servant. To be sure, his central message was about a kingdom, but not his kingdom; rather the kingdom of God, which he said was already present among/within us.
So, on Christ the King Sunday, we are invited to remember that the ‘Kingdom of God,’ to which Jesus constantly pointed, is as fully available now and always as it was 2,000 years ago. The question that remains each Reign of Christ Sunday (I think a more inclusive label than Christ the King) is whether or not we will choose to live as if the one who reigns is not Caesar, but God.
As for Jesus, I see him always pointing to something he calls the realm of God (again, a more inclusive term than kingdom of God), where new possibilities demand to be considered. I see him inviting his followers to join with him to walk, without fear, beyond those security boundaries that always prohibit, block, or deny our access to a deeper humanity. His association with any kingdom or realm is but as messenger for it, servant of it, pointer to it, liver of it, but not as ruler.
If you can remember back far enough to the days of Jesus Christ, Superstar, you may recall that when Jesus and the disciples were approaching Jerusalem, Simon the Zealot urges Jesus to go ahead and become king. He says that Jesus then will get all the power and glory. Jesus, in reply, quietly and sadly tells Simon that neither he nor any of the players in the game have any idea of what power and glory really are. And then he goes on his way, the way of the cross, that totally subverts all the earthly powers.
Having said all this, I am, nevertheless, a great fan of the celebration of the reign of Christ. Furthermore, I think that the concept of it is essential for the lasting hope for peace among the nations that was Pope Pius’ objective in establishing this day in the church calendar. Indeed, recognising Christ as king is an essential part of the process of change that is required in our lives if we are to have the fulness of life as God intended, and if the earth is to prosper.
Why? Our lives, for the most part, are played out as subjects of the reign of this world’s emperors: be they the tsars of the market economy who tempt us with health and wealth, the commanders of security forces to soothe our personal fears or the political rulers, who promise that someone else will not get what we own. Most people choose to live safely ensconced in the status quo, and rely on the kings who reign over this same status. As a result, whilst we may live in relative comfort, the world continues to have one war after another, there continues to be a vast maldistribution of resources with a relatively few rich and great masses of poor, while the earth is being robbed of her ability to support numerous species, including homo sapiens. As individuals we may decry this situation, but feel powerless to do anything about it. If we are ever going to change anything it will only be when we have someone alongside who will be able to give us the confidence needed for bold new living.
People in Jesus day felt similarly powerless and, in him, they thought they saw a saviour, a messiah or, in the Greek, a Christ. But he was not a saviour in the mould of earthly kings. He had no power to bring about peace and prosperity or to right wrongs or end oppression. He rejected the title of Messiah ( Christ), so if we insist on using it, it needs to undergo a considerable redefinition from Old Testament expectations.
For starters, Jesus’ surname is not Christ. Even calling Jesus the Christ is not entirely appropriate, given that he seems to have rejected the title. Nevertheless, Jesus lived and died in a way that gave people the impression the powers of the world had no claim upon him. He had something that gave him the courage and the power to defy what St. Paul termed “the powers and principalities of the world.” And not only to defy the powers of the world, for the message of Easter is that these powers and principalities were not simply defied, they were beaten.
‘Christ’ can then be a useful label for the quality that gave Jesus his determination to follow God; the special character seen in Jesus that people related to God; the image of God in Jesus that enabled him to turn is back on the worldly means through which people typically find security, comfort and assurance, and strike out on a new path to life in God’s realm.
If Christ is to be the label, then I think it is very helpful to make a distinction between the man, Jesus of Nazareth, on one hand, and the Christ that the world saw in Jesus’, on the other. This Christ, not Jesus, is the entity whose reign we celebrate today, in whomever it happens to be manifest. Carl Jung called it the Christ archetype, and as an archetype, it exists in the soul (psyche) of every human being; the image of God in us which connects us with God, waiting and yearning to be allowed into our consciousness that it might be manifest in our lives for all to see, just as it was in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
This Christ is the Pantocrator, the ‘All-Powerful,’ of the Greek icon, shining through in Jesus. To genuinely celebrate the Reign of Christ Sunday is to allow the Christ archetype to reign in our lives; to take control, unleashing its power to reign over our attitudes and our decisions about how we live, how we relate to others, how we spend our money, how we vote.
There is a large segment of the church-going population that has believed that the object of faith or religion, is belief, particularly what is believed about Jesus, and that these beliefs are to be found in the Bible and in the creeds and in the tradition.
You probably know me well enough by now to know that I don’t agree. I think that what is most important today is the way we are Christian; having trust with Jesus, not trust in Jesus. It is not set ‘beliefs’ that matter, even though what we believe is important, since real beliefs shape our actions. What matters is that we are ‘People of the Way’, as the early followers of Jesus were called; how we live, i.e. our actions: trusting, walking on despite fear, daring to be surprised by life, celebrating where the ‘status quo’ is disrupted by the experience of new events, and integrating these new events with what formerly existed.
So this day, Christ the King Day, or using the more inclusive term, the Reign of Christ Day, is really an ongoing conversation about how we release the power of the Christ in our own lives and in our world. Long live the King!