It has been really fun watching the progress of the organ restoration. The work being done is incredible and I can’t wait for the debut of this almost new instrument. But one of the unanticipated side effects of watching the restoration is how it can cause one to look at parts of the chancel, the area around the altar, in new ways, depending on where the scaffolding is, where the lighting may be focused for the workmen, or what part of the organ is being worked on. And this has been particularly true of the cross hanging over the altar.
At times it’s looked like Jesus is being illuminated by some heavenly glow from above or from behind; other times like he’s helping the workmen or in jail if the scaffolding is either in front of him or behind. Or he’s just simply looking beatifically upon the whole scene, no doubt blessing the work being done.
It’s interesting how the cross can look so different depending on what’s surrounding it. Or who is looking at it for that matter, because I suspect what I see is not necessarily what others see.
At any rate, all this has caused me to really look at the cross with fresh eyes.
Now, the cross itself is a representation of the Christus Rex—Christ the King, shown to be victorious over death on the cross by his priestly vestments (the robes representing the church) and the crown on his head (signifying his reign over all).
I remember when I first started attending the Cathedral, some 20 or so years ago, and especially when I first became an acolyte and later a verger, so was sitting closer to it, I would sometimes stare up at the cross, positive Jesus was going to come down any minute. He just looked and felt so real. Which if it had actually happened, would have been absolutely terrifying.
But for me, there has always been something about the depiction of Jesus on this cross which has seemed, for lack of a better word, incarnational. God came into the world and overcame the forces of evil and violence which the figure of Jesus serenely attests to.
Of course like everything else in church life, there are those among you who do not care for this cross. One criticism is it is too small for the space—Jesus as Lord should be what we focus on and that really doesn’t happen here. Another criticism, almost at other end of the spectrum, is that it is too imperial. We don’t have kings and queens governing our country on purpose, so a vision of a triumphant king does not carry a lot of meaning.
Regardless however of whether or not any of us like this particular cross, I bring it up because today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year. The day we are called upon to recognize Christ’s reign over the Kingdom of God, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, in the words of Handel’s Messiah, an image this particular cross seeks to represent.
But because of the images this Sunday can evoke for us, it’s real value may lie in the fact how it, by extension, calls upon us to think deeply about what we believe about Jesus and the place he has in our lives. Not what we’re told to believe and the place he should have in our lives, but what we really believe and the place he truly resides within us.
And the responses we have to images of Jesus and of the cross, and I’m not talking about whether or not we like a particular piece of artwork here, but how what we see represents, or not, our true feelings, can be instructive.
For they can help underscore the tension between what we see, what we really understand about Jesus and who and what he was and is. And frankly what we so often want him to be—safe and containable. Right up there where we can see him.
Which points to one of the greatest tensions we may have, and sounds somewhat sacrilegious to say on this particular day, but it’s the tension to allow Jesus to come down from the cross, as terrifying as that may be, not in any way diminishing what he did or what he endured, but so we can then acknowledge and live out the truth that the cross was not, and is not, the last word. Because therein lies the essence of his victory—Jesus lives and we live with him.
Thus if Jesus is to reign in our lives, he cannot do so as a static figure but instead needs to be at the very heartbeat of our existence. We need him to be real, not a figurehead.
So ask yourself—what do you believe about Jesus and where does he reside in your life? If we’re honest with ourselves, chances are our answers to those questions aren’t all that straight forward.
And if that’s the case, or you don’t have ready answers, don’t despair but instead take in what that tells you. Faith is not about certainty but a willingness, and commitment, to walk the journey with Jesus with open hearts and minds. Which allows for the movement of the Holy Spirit to continually shape our understanding of Jesus as we, hopefully, mature in in our faith.
Besides people have been trying to figure out Jesus since he walked on this earth, usually with limited success. Pilate’s question to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” in other words, “who are you?” and by implication, “what am I supposed to do with you,” are asked continually of Jesus throughout the Gospels.
Of course Jesus doesn’t answer Pilate directly because Pilate’s question misses the point of why Jesus is even standing before him. It was never about temporal power and to go there is of no help.
So instead Jesus speaks to the reality of his presence, “You say I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
It’s a voice that comes to us in many different forum but always points to God. The Alpha and the Omega. It points us all to the one who is and who was and who is to come.
So on this Christ the King Sunday, let us all claim our images, impressions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs about Jesus, even if contradictory, for what they tell us about where we are on our journey of faith. And at the same time give them over to God so we may come to live out the Gospel of Jesus, not the Gospel about Jesus.
Let us seek to acknowledge him as ruler of our lives, and then by the grace and faithfulness of God, live our lives accordingly—allowing that our understanding of what this means will grow and evolve over time.
For to do so, Theologian Marcus Borg says is to “center in God,” which he says means “to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength. It means to belove God. How do we belove? What does it mean to belove God? It has multiple resonances: to yearn for, to pay attention to, to commit to, to be loyal to, to value above all else.”[i]
It is hard to think of a finer way than that to live out, and give thanks, for the gift of Jesus so graciously given us.
The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas
25 November 2012
[i] Marcus Borg, Jesus, Uncovering the Life Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 222