The Reign of Christ – what are the images that come to mind when we hear these words ? Have we a notion of what the kingdom of heaven is really like? Or are our imaginations the captive of Michelangelo’s art work, and the hymns of our childhood.
Holy, Holy, Holy, runs the second verse of the hymn I first learned, “all the saints adore thee/ Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea/Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee/Who were, and art, and evermore shall be.”
None of that makes much sense anymore to us or anybody else for that matter. And as a vision of the kingdom it hasn’t proved to be all that appealing. So where can we turn? We could try the Bible. This is the point in the Natural Church Development process where we’re supposed to answer that the Bible is important to us!
The Prophet Zechariah, in the year 518 B.C., wrote about the Reign of Christ:
Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city…Old men and women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets (Zech8:3-5).
Jesus, you will remember, rode into that city on a young donkey and they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, young and old, they came out to meet him shouting “Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!”
No Cherubim and Seraphim falling down before him, no crowns of gold, no glassy sea.
Just a party on the street.
You see, the kingdom of God, as scripture sees it, is not some never-never land in the sweet by and by. Think about it; the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t say “Thy kingdom come in heaven”. It says, “Thy kingdom come on earth, even as it is in heaven.” The Reign of Christ is about God working to accomplish God’s will for the earth. And God is working to fulfil the divine purpose and intention for human life in the world right here and now. God in Christ is working toward the time when this solid, everyday, common world of ours will become the good place that God intended in the beginning for it to be.
And sadly, for lots of us that might be harder to believe than Cherubim’s and Seraphim’s floating around on the ceiling. We’ve been given the picture of the Reign of Christ and we simply don’t want to believe it.
And yet when we see it, or hear of it we do recognize the kingdom when it springs forth in our midst. Let me give you an example. This story was recounted by Jim Wallis in his book Who Speaks for God ?
I recently heard a story on the radio. A reporter was covering the conflict in the middle of Sarajevo, and he saw a little girl shot by a sniper. The reporter threw down his pad and pencil, and stopped being a reporter for a few minutes. He rushed up to a man who had picked up the child, and helped them both into his car.
As the reporter stepped on the accelerator, racing to the hospital, the man holding the bleeding child said, “ Hurry, my friend, my child is still alive.” A moment or two later, “ Hurry, my friend, my child is still breathing.” A moment later, Hurry, my friend, my child is still warm.” Finally, “ Hurry. Oh, God, my child is getting cold.
When they got to the hospital, the little girl was dead. As the two men were in the lavatory, washing the blood off their hands and their clothes, the man turned to the reporter and said, “ This is a terrible task for me. I must go tell her father that his child is dead. He will be heartbroken.”
The reporter was amazed. He looked at the grieving man and said, “ I thought she was your child,” the man looked back and said, “ No, but aren’t they all our children ?”
And the kingdom comes, every time we come to that simple understanding. Yes, they are all our children – no matter where they are or hold old they have become. They are also God’s children as well and God has entrusted us with their care in Sarajevo, Kabul, Baghdad, Jerusalem, or where ever we lay down our heads at night. And the kingdom comes when we can love all God’s children as God dreams we might.
Robert Capon was an Anglican priest, he picked up the theme of the reign of Christ in this way; “ The Mystery of Christ shines from one end of creation to the other: the whole shooting match is already lit up everywhere, free for nothing. The church doesn’t have to tear around telling people to get themselves wired into Jesus. It just has to bring them the hilariously Good News that if only they will trust Jesus and open their eyes, the darkness will be gone. And it will be gone because, except for the blindness of their unbelief, it was never there at all.
The whole, reconciling work of God made flesh in Jesus, you see, is already in everybody and everything by the universal presence of the mystery of Christ in all of creation. And the great truth of our faith is that we don’t have to earn the reign of Christ because you’ve got it already. The trick of faith, if there is such a thing, is that it all hinges on trust. Trust Jesus and open your eyes to the reign of Christ that is breaking forth into our world every moment of our lives.
The other truth of our faith is that church, this place and time, this community of people is to be a piece of heaven on earth, a foretaste of the reign of Christ. It’s been said of the Church that this is a place
Where we try to think, speak, and act in God’s way, not in the way of a fear-filled world. A church is a home for love, a home for brothers and sisters to dwell in unity, to rest, to be healed, to let go of their defences and be free – free from the worries, free from tensions, free to laugh, free to cry. Our vision of the reign of Christ is not of a way so narrow that only the extremely lucky, vigilant, moralist, with no end of perfectionist tendencies can walk it. The reign of Christ is about freedom from all that would trap us into acting and believing that we are less than we really are. God’s wonderful and good creation.
William Sloane Coffin, the former chaplain of Yale University, wrote of us in the church that too often many of us fear the cure more than the illness. We prefer the plausible lie that we can’t be cured to the fantastic truth that we can be. And there’s a reason we’re that way: it’s frightening to admit that we are responsible, and able to respond to God’s visionary creative love. Cured of our fears we’d no longer be paralyzed, our arms would be free to embrace the outcast and the enemy, the ‘other’ whose way of life is different than ours, the victims of our society whose
dependence on the state so offends our work ethic, the terrorist whose world view is so counter to ours. Everything is possible to those whose eyes, no longer fixed on some status symbol or other, are held instead by the gaze of Jesus who alone can dispense freedom and life in measures unheard of.
And at this point I want to remind you that I’m quoting William Sloane Coffin: But as the hand of love feely extended often returns covered with scars, if not nailed to a cross, it is not dumb to refuse the cure; it is not dumb to remain paralyzed, but it is boring. And alas, whether they occupy pulpits or sit in pews, most North American Christians are boring. Lacking the will to be cured, lacking the courage to be well, they do not seek the forgiveness that offers a new way of life; instead, they seek punishment – which, by soothing the guilt, makes the old way of life bearable anew. And they find this punishment not only in boring sermons and services, but also in a religion of legalism and moralism that turns people who could be free and loving into mean little puritans, into blue-nosed busybodies.
Coffin doesn’t paint a flattering picture of the church – and it is why when we do get it right – we are so compelling and attractive.
The church might be old and run down, just a few white haired old ladies, the music might be bad, the preacher less than inspiring. But if there is freedom to love and be loved, freedom to be who we really are, if there is room on the pew for the likes of me, who ever I am – then church always thrives because then we truly reflect the kingdom to which we’re called to point. And which we celebrate this day.
St. Augustine, the father of much Anglican thought, may have said it best: “Let us sing alleluia on earth, while we still live in anxiety, so that we may sing it one day in heaven in full security…We shall have no enemies in heaven, we shall never lose a friend. God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung in anxiety, there in security; here they are sung by those destined to die, there by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there in hope’s fulfilment; here, they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country. So then…. Let us sing now, not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labours. You should sing as wayfarers do – sing, but continue your journey….Sing then, but keep going.”
The joy and the challenge of our faith is to learn to set our anxiety aside and live in the freedom promised us in the reign of Christ. It’s all around us, if only we’ve eyes to see it and courage and trust enough to live into it.