The Reign of Christ
Grace to you
and peace from him
who is and who was and who is to come…
The most frequent command of the Bible is “to be not afraid!” It is the first thing Angels say when they arrive with the divine, demanding messages they have been charged to deliver. Joseph says it to his brothers in forgiving them, Moses says it to the Israelites, God says it to Joshua and numerous times to Jeremiah, Isaiah sings to God that he will not be afraid. Jesus says it the most – to his disciples and to those he heals.
I remember once making this claim to a group of youth I was training (a more accurate translation of the Greek word didache, one of the ancient marks of the church, than “teaching”). One of them looked at me incredulously and wondered, honestly, if that was even possible. I stumbled a bit in my reply. The texts for today, the final Sunday in the Christian year, offer a more succinct answer to Annie’s question (who has now, by the way, grown into a rather fearless young woman).
The short answer is “Yes, it is possible.” It is possible to not be afraid because we as confessing Christians have been made aware of one of God’s great gifts: a telos – an end, God’s intended end.
I was intrigued recently by the ring of truth I heard in C. Christopher Smith’s use of the phrase, “the violence of impatience” and his observation of this in himself and in the wider, Western culture. I believe, however, that the root of our impatience is not so much the ‘instant response to button pushing’ culture we are submersed in as it is the anxious, fearful, arrogant fragment of our broken human nature since the Fall that drives us to try and fix our future. The Bible and the rest of history are littered with our failed attempts to fix our own future. These very, thankfully, temporary fixes invariably end up being made in our own image, limited by the vices we are individually and corporately enmeshed in, not to mention our incomplete knowledge and our restricted imagination. I mean, who could have IMAGINED that the fullness of God is Christ crucified and risen?! It is a tragedy that the consequences of our fixed utopias have been the deaths of millions.
Another tragedy can be glimpsed in those who have no sense of a telos, no purpose beyond the satisfaction of their own wants, which ultimately have no end – a bottomless, black hole, ironically, finally unsatisfying.
The good news is that Jesus, the Christ, has fixed the future – a future of cruciform love – and that future is coming, here. It is Christ coming (as opposed to our going) to judge the living and the dead, to establish once and for all God’s intentions for the Creation.
In the text from John for Reign of Christ Sunday, Pilate breezes in to the Praetorium, possibly Herod’s sumptuous palace, summoning and questioning Jesus. There is talk of kings and kingdoms – the juxtaposition of Pilate’s and Jesus’ definitions of these crackling in the air. It is little wonder that when Jesus speaks of truth, it goes soaring over Pilate’s head. Jesus states to Pilate that his mission to the world is to “testify to the truth.” The word “testify” has at its root the word “testes” and stems from the practice of male witnesses (the only acceptable kind for too long) covering their testes and swearing by them – in effect swearing on their future children – to speak only the truth. In Old English, the root meaning of the word “truth” is “faithfulness”. The truth is “a quality of being true” rather than a dissertation. Jesus, literally, stakes his life and the future on the faithfulness of God. The core meaning of the word “faith” is “trust”. God’s faithfulness in Christ is trustworthy and deserving of our hearing. As disciples we are called to listen to the voice of truth – the One who shows us a Way we could never have imagined on our own.
So, yes Annie, we can be not afraid, for there is a fixed future we can have faith in, we can trust, we can give our life and our death and our life beyond death to, thanks be to God.