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Reign of Christ, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 121, 2021

2 Samuel 23: 1-7; John 18: 33-37

‘Enthroned upon the praises of Israel’

Andrew Collis

The psalmist sings: “You are holy, O God, enthroned upon the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3). The Spirit of God inhabits words and deeds of reverence. The praises of Israel have to do with freedom from slavery, freedom for community. The praises of Israel, and by extension the church, have to do with justice for the last and the little, life for the least likely.

Reverence, praise and worship take this primordial form, then (perhaps we see King David) – singing and dancing before the God of freedom and justice.

One way to imagine the reign of God in Christ is to think of the four gospels as comprising a kind of throne. Christ is enthroned upon four gospels (works of praise) whose ancient symbols/totems are the human (Matthew), the lion (Mark), the ox (Luke), and the eagle (John).

There are reasons for the assignments (the imagery alludes to Ezekiel’s vision of the divine), including peculiar sayings and stories, distinctive literary styles and theological themes.

Matthew presents Jesus as the wise teacher of Torah, Mark’s Jesus is more than a little wild, Luke’s musical stars Jesus the kind and merciful (humble and dependable as an ox), John’s richly poetic account reworks the Book of Genesis and Greek metaphysics – the jewgreek Messiah deals in subversive and sacramental dyads: Word/flesh, spirit/wind, crucifixion/coronation …

So, the reign of Christ has to do with diversity – with diverse testimony to freedom and justice – diverse testimony to Christ-ian community.

Our confessions and claims take into account the best anthropology (what it means to be human, to be humane), the best ecology (the intrinsic value of wilderness, the wisdom of climate science, Earth systems science), the most faithful (egalitarian) ecclesiology, the most universal (generous) spirituality, and so on.

Our pictures of the reign of Christ ought to be expansive, rich and complex. They invite singing and dancing. Our pictures are also cruciform (four frames compose an interior cross), meaning they resist all ideologies of violence, all violent ideology.

Our gospel 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).

Everyone who seeks the truth (humanely speaking, ecologically, with regards to church/community, in many theo-poetic modes) hears the voice of Christ.

New Testament scholar Brendan Byrne comments on the special quality, the strength of character revealed in John’s portrait of Christ: “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.”

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 Jesus (including contemporary totems/symbols) … They will include our own selves and lives.

What is it to be subject to God and to one another in Christ? What is it to be truly human, dependent, relational, spiritual – to share in the reign of Christ, an all-singing, all-dancing heavenly kindom on Earth?

And how is Christ enthroned upon our passions? Amen.