Monday, November 16, 2015

“You are a King?” – 22 Nov 2015 – Reign of Christ

What does the Reign of Christ look like? What is God’s Dominion? How does Jesus’ voice give truth that makes it possible for us to “belong to the truth”?

Given these questions, how could we not find sympathy for Pilate as he tries to come to grips with the identity of this Jesus who is a threat to many and a healer to others? Jesus himself refers to his “kingdom,” his basileia which can be rendered as “royal power” and “rule,” among other English words. In effect, Jesus tells Pilate that his power comes from outside this world. These claims are difficult to wrangle.

And yet, we end the liturgical year on this Sunday with Christ’s eternal power as the central focus. This is the crowning Sunday, but it is also not a day of sheer triumph. Jesus, our ultimate power, is dragged before the political power of a corrupt government. Jesus, thus, knows that the dominion to which his body will be entrusted is one that will continue to confront enemies of God’s inclusive love.

John 18:33-37

As the Christian assembly gathers to celebrate Christ's kingship, the reading from John 18 invites reflection on the surprising character of Christ's kingly rule. . . Pilate wants to determine whether Jesus represents a threat to Roman imperial rule. He inquires whether Jesus is “king of the Jews,” a rival to Caesar's authority. In the conversation that follows, Jesus reveals two important qualities of his dominion.

First, Jesus indicates that his kingdom is not from this world. . . The dualism between the kingdoms of this world and Jesus' kingdom is well expressed by Walter Wink in Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992). Jesus' kingdom does not belong to the world system of domination. For that reason, Jesus has not prepared his followers to use violence against any enemies. His followers do not fight, as all other partisans do, because his kingdom is not from here.

Secondly, Jesus defines what it means to be a king in terms of testifying to the truth. The testimony Jesus gives is his life, both lived and offered up on the cross. Because Jesus is the truth (14:6), this truth cannot be understood or possessed as a proposition or article of belief. Instead, one belongs to the truth by entering into a relationship with God in Christ.– Aaron Couch

Again, in Daniel, the reality of the powers of domination are in the forefront. But here, the Ancient One is the judge.

Daniel 7:9-10,13-14

The apocalyptic imagery of the vision in Daniel 7, both memorable and grotesque, is interpreted by a heavenly attendant in 7:15–27. A succession of four monstrous animals in 7:2–8 symbolizes a succession of four empires. The fourth, identified as a terrifying beast, represents the Seleucid Empire. It sprouts a little horn, which is Antiochus Epiphanes. The reader who is acquainted with Antiochus' hubris and his attempt to terrorize the Jewish people into submission will appreciate how the visionary writer characterizes this ruler as an arrogant little horn.

The lectionary focuses on Daniel's vision of the divine court of justice passing judgment on the beast and giving kingship to “one like a human being.” The use of inclusive language may, in this case, prevent the reader from immediately recognizing the phrase that Jesus employs as a title: “Son of Man.” Within the vision, this “one like a human being” receives eternal dominion from God. Although this figure appears to be an individual, the interpretive section at the end of the chapter makes it clear that the “one like a human being” is a corporate image representing the people of Israel. – Aaron Couch

These are cautionary words about reading too much Christological imagery into Old Testament writings, but it is natural that the Christ-centered mind will not miss the connection between “one like a human being” receiving “dominion and glory and kingship.”

When Pastor Couch points out the corporate image of this one-like-a-human who receives kingship, we might remember that the body of Christ is a corporate image now, including all the saints, living and dead.

Revelation 1:4b-8

Revelation . . .  [is] a letter from John the visionary (different from John the apostle) to seven church communities in the Roman province of Asia. . .

Jesus, risen from the dead, is acclaimed as “ruler of the kings on earth.” By his death he has demonstrated his deep love for us and has accomplished God's saving work to set us free from our sins. John pictures the community of God's people in two ways: we are the domain where Jesus' rule is visible and we are priests who serve Jesus' God and Father. – Aaron Couch

Inviting the assembly to ponder the contrasting dominions of power­­––the secular world vs. the Alpha and Omega––immediately raises the specter of how any of us can manage to navigate the choices we face without the guidance of Christ Jesus. We may not be ruled today by Roman soldiers, but the same temptation exists to dismiss the ultimate power of God’s saving wisdom in favor of an easier and more comfortable path through life.

This is a day for strong singing that fills the sanctuary with a sense of belonging to something far greater than any individual alone or the whole people of God together. Let there be strong Confession and Forgiveness and an enlightening sermon, praising the One who became human for us.

Aaron Couch is a co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.

Homily Service 39, no. 12 (2006): 49-58.

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