Read the text here:Revelation 1:4-8
Read the Gospel text here: St. John 18 & 19
Who is Lord?
In many ways our festival today – The Reign of Christ the King – is a little antiquated. There was an intense discussion on the ELCA clergy Facebook page about whether or not we ought to even continue to celebrate this festival, as for most of us the whole idea of Kingship is something from the deep historical past and not really a part of our experience. Quite frankly, even if you look around the world at the various Kings and Queens who continue to rule in some way, none of them holds the kind of absolute power which was held by (for example) the Roman Emperor during the time of Jesus. When Pilate says to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have the power to release you, and power to crucify you,” this was true according to the political structure at the time. Pilate acted on behalf of the Emperor and his word was consequently absolute, and since Jesus was not a Roman citizen he had no right of appeal. The Emperor was absolute; the Emperor was Lord; the Emperor was a god! And those who questioned this “truth” ended up nailed to a cross!
But yet, Christians continued to proclaim the Lordship of Christ. “Jesus is Lord!” This was a popular confession in the early church and appears especially in the letters of Paul (see especially Philippians 2:11). What they were saying was this: “Jesus is Lord and the Emperor is not!” Jesus is Lord and I affirm all that Jesus stands for: justice that champions the needs of the neighbor, the needs of the stranger and the poor; self-giving love that reaches out to all who are in need; turning away from greed and acquiring things; living lives that reflect the grace and love of Christ. Theses are some of the basic things we affirm when we confess that Jesus is Lord. But at the same time in this confession we are also rejecting the priorities and values of the Empire: a life focused on money, power, success and self-fulfillment, especially at the expense of others – these are categorically rejected.
The community for whom John of Patmos’ wrote the Apocalypse or Revelation knew first hand both the joys and suffering that came from such a confession. They had become followers of Christ, and they struggled to live grace-filled lives in a world that rejected their faith and values and persecuted them as a result. In this passage Jesus is given a number of names that reflect different dimensions of the Lordship of Christ. Let me list them:
1. “The faithful witness” (the word witness is, in Greek, the word martyr – Jesus reflects the radical love and grace of God even to the point of giving up his life);
2. “the firstborn from the dead” (In Jesus the powers of death are destroyed once and for all, death, sorrow, pain, suffering and persecution do not have the last word - in Christ we are a new creation called to live resurrection lives);
3. “the ruler of the Kings of the earth,” (Christ is above all temporal powers; and the priorities of the empire – which lifts up power and wealth above all at the expense of human beings – these have been defeated and will be ultimately destroyed.)
4. “The Alpha and the Omega” (The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – the metaphor here is a confession that Christ is at the very beginning and at the very end, and everywhere in between. There is nothing before, there is nothing after and in between everything is Christ!)
5. “Lord God” (Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus is Lord and God; the Emperor is neither!)
6. “who is, who was and who is to come” (see #4 above)
7. “The Almighty” (a word which in the Old Testament is used only for God. So in no uncertain terms this is a proclamation of the Incarnation!
And in the middle of this passage we, Jesus’ followers and disciples are described as those who are loved and freed, who have been made a Kingdom (citizens of the Kingdom of God) and priests – that is those through whom God reaches out to this beloved but hurting and fallen world, and through whom God’s love and grace flows.
Our texts today, especially the passage from Revelation, calls for us to join the chorus and confess that Jesus is Lord and accept the implications of this confession, and begin to work on living lives that reflect the priorities that this confession implies.
I began with Pilate – let me end with Pilate. It is very interesting to note that during the trial in John (18:28 through 19:16) Jesus opens up to Pilate in ways that seem as though Jesus is actually inviting Pilate to become a follower. And what does Pilate do? He waffles – he actually goes back and forth between Jesus and the Temple authorities a total of 5 times trying to decide what to do. He simply can’t make up his mind. He catches a glimpse the “abundant life” which Jesus is offering, but the power and pull of the empire are too strong and ultimately he cannot resist this and gives in to it.
What about you? What about us as a community? Are we able to stand up and confess the Lordship of Christ, and accept all that this confession brings with it? Are we ready to stand up and say NO to the powers of wealth, greed, power, accumulating stuff and self-centeredness? Are you ready to accept the Reign of Christ in your lives?