I posed this question in my theology class last week: “What does it mean for Christ to reign?” Together we came up with several affirmations. [Theologians-in-the-making have good insights!]
First, Jesus the Christ has been exalted to the right hand of God. From that place of distinction, his reign is eternal.
Second, he reigns as a servant, interceding for us in his “heavenly session.” Although he has been granted the “name above all names,” he ever lives as our advocate and friend.
Third, he reigns from the cross in weakness and ignominy. The New Testament presses us to consider the crucifixion in contemplation and gratitude and not skip to quickly to the joy of resurrection. It is also important to recall that he “rose with his wounds, “ as Jürgen Moltmann reminds us.
Fourth, although kingly images accompany his reign, his power is not that of military might. Until the time of Constantine, the primary image of image of Jesus Christ was as shepherd, but that was soon dismissed as imperial images of the Pantocrator (the ruler over everything) became normative. Jesus does not triumph through the sword, even though Constantine’s inspiration contained that symbol and his army appropriated the cross as its emblem.
The Gospel lesson for “Christ the King” Sunday is John 18:33-37, which narrates that every interesting exchange between Jesus and Pilate. When Pilate asked Jesus whether he was the “King of the Jews,” he does not directly answer, preferring to describe his “kingdom” in different terms than the Roman ruler expected. “My kingdom is not from this world,” he declares; his reign has to do with bearing witness to the truth. For this he came into the world.
Yet, the question of the reigning Christ persists as we see so much in our world that is antithetical to his rule. When I used to fly into Louisville regularly, I would see a large sign near the airport that proclaimed: “Jesus reigns over Louisville.” It struck me as a rather odd form of billboard evangelism; its location (near Churchill Downs) was clearly preoccupied with more mundane matters—like horse races.
One day when viewing the billboard, my perception shifted. Of course, he reigns over Louisville; it is just that most do not yet acknowledge it. The reign of Christ is promissory; indeed, at the summing up of human history, “every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” In that, we can be confident.
The reign of Christ empowers the church, and we extend his rule only through his methods of compassion, inclusion, and truth telling. We offer the truth of Jesus with conviction—and hopefully with his humility.
Molly T. Marshall
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