Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘The Saviour enthroned’
We have a remarkable icon for this last Sunday of the church year. The design is of Byzantine origin and dates from the seventh century or earlier. Our particular artwork is by an artist from Lalibelain Ethiopia. The subject derives from a variety of sources: Isaiah’s vision of the Most High enthroned among seraphim (6:1-
The four creatures, according to Ezekiel and John of Patmos (Revelation), are the human, the lion, the ox and the eagle. We might reflect on the ways that these four creatures bear witness to God and to God in Christ. [DIAGRAM #1]
Some scholars suggest that Ezekiel, exiled in Babylon in the sixth century BCE, was influenced by the cultures of Assyria and Babylon. The animals associated with the “tetramorph”, the four creatures,symbolised the four fixed signs of the zodiac: the human or angel representing Aquarius; the lion representing Leo; the ox representing Taurus;and the eagle Scorpio. In Western astrology the four symbols are associated with the elements: Water, Fire, Earth and Air respectively. [DIAGRAM #2]
The early Christians adopted this symbolism and adapted it for the four Evangelists (the four gospels), the tetramorph first appearing in Christian art in the fifth century. St Jerome is generally credited with assigning the tetramorph to the Evangelists.
The creatures, just like the four gospels, represent four facets of Christ.
Matthew is represented as the human because his Gospel centres on the human nature and the life of Christ. Matthew’s Gospel begins: “This is the family record of Jesus Christ, descendant of Bathsheba and David, descendant of Sarah and Abraham.”Mark is represented as a lion because he proclaims the royal dignity of Christ, the lion being the king of beasts. In Mark’s Gospel is heard the voice of a lion roaring in the desert: “Make ready the way of Our God, clear a straight path.”Luke the Evangelist is represented as an ox or a calf. His Gospel dwells on the atonement and the loving sacrifice of Christ. Luke begins with the story of the priest Zechariah, and renews the notion of priesthood and sacrifice. John is represented as an eagle, as his Gospel describes the incarnation of the divine Logos. St Jerome writes: “The fourth [face signifies] John the Evangelist who, having taken eagle’s wings and hastening toward higher matters, discusses the Word of God.”[DIAGRAM #3]
Perhaps we can think of some other good reasons for relating Christ to the four creatures, the four elements,the four gospels. Minimally, this is a way of keeping open our confessions and claims. The reign of God in Christ is no small matter. Our confessions and claims will need to take into account the best anthropology, the best ecology (climate science), the most faithful (egalitarian) ecclesiology, the most universal (generous)spirituality, and so on.
Christ is enthroned in/upon four gospels. A common lectionary ensures that all four gospels are read every three years in the churches throughout the world.
Our pictures of the reign of Christ ought to be rich and complex. And they will be cruciform, meaning they will resist all ideologies of violence, all violent ideology.
Our gospel reading for today expresses this powerfully by way of an exchange between Jesus and Pilate, the Roman prefect/governor of the province of Judea who orders, ultimately,that Jesus be crucified.
“Pilate said, ‘So you’re a King?’
Jesus replied, ‘You say I’m a King. I was born and came into the world for one purpose to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who seeks the truth hears my voice’” (John 18:37).
“The ‘truth’ upon which the gospel rests may not be ‘from this world’ but the allegiance that it demands [to malkutain Aramaic;mamlakain Hebrew;basileiain Greek (feminine terms for “royal/godly rule/power”)] inevitably has social and political consequences in the world. The truth to which Jesus witnesses is the reality of God and of God’s claim upon the world, which necessarily finds expression in love.”
Says New Testament scholar Brendan Byrne: “Such divine love, when embodied and lived out in human communities, will inevitably threaten and attract the hostility of social structures and regimes that retain their grip by fomenting fear, hatred, and resentment” (Brendan Byrne,Life Abounding: A Reading of John’s Gospel, 2014, p. 306; See also Neil Douglas-
Our pictures of the reign of Christ will differ strikingly from kingship/sovereignty as ordinarily imagined. Deacon Sandy Boyce (Pilgrim Uniting Church, Adelaide) points out that (even) biblical kings Saul, David and Solomon slaughtered their enemies and stripped the bodies of their enemies.In contrast, Jesus the “king of kings”is mocked, stripped of his own clothes and brutally executed.
Our pictures of the reign of Christ will include figures other than Christ. They will include our own selves and lives.
I have previously mentioned a commentary on Shakespeare’s play,Hamlet,in which the commentator, Harold C. Goddard, mentions four passions of Prince Hamlet in the context of describing a most well-
Even without exploring the various possibilities for connection between our feast day and a drama about a prince seeking truth and a kingship denied, I suspect we can relate to the passions of Hamlet, the quintessentially modern human being suspended between desires for vengeance and justice; caught between the past and a present becoming.
How might such passions in our own lives serve to confess that Christ is sovereign? Our passions, our convictions, be speak a subjectivity we are subjects of a certain sovereign.
What is it to be subject to God in Christ? What is it to be human to share in the reign of Christ, in a heavenly kindom on earth?
Creativity. Wonder. Love. Curiosity/Truth. [DIAGRAM #4]
How might such passions in our own lives lives lived deeply and fully serve to confess that Christ is sovereign? Jesus Christ is sovereign, no other. Jesus Christ is sovereign, who or what then is to be feared? How is Christ enthroned in/upon our passions? Goddard mentions a fifth passion of Hamlet he regards an undergirding passion in terms of our diagram we might write it as the cross itself, again understood as resistance to ideology and violence the undergirding passion is freedom. [DIAGRAM #5]
The cross, the passion of Christ, the cross most passionately, is the resurrection Christ alive in the Holy Spirit of freedom.
Let’s complete the homily together. Creativity. Wonder. Love. Curiosity/Truth. Freedom. What are you passionate about? How might your passion (rather than simply intellectual assent/belief) serve to confess and to enthrone Christ as sovereign? ...Amen.