Sunday, April 08, 2007
Christ Enthroned, by Robert Lentz
"This icon depicts the Christ in eschatological glory. The blue spheres around him, without beginning or end, represent eternity, and the red squares represent time. The Greek letters in his halo signify “I am who I am,” God and human. Christ bridges time and eternity.
The Old Testament prophets had fantastic visions of God in glory, and their imagery was repeated in the New Testament. Six-winged seraphim surround Christ’s throne, and Ezechial’s winged beasts emerge from the four directions, now representing the four evangelists. All except for Christ are painted as though transparent, to emphasize that they are spirits. Christ is painted with bold colors, because he is human. Material creation is enthroned in the highest heavens. This is the core of our faith as Christians.
Misguided emphasis has sometimes led Christians to spurn the material world. This world of ours is called to inconceivable glory, however -- both because it was created by God, but also because it was assumed into God’s very person. Because of Christ, there is no thing nor any person in this world that does not command our respect. As St. Gregory of Nyssa said many centuries ago, if only we would take off our shoes -- referring to the story of Moses and the burning bush -- we would discover that all ground was sacred."
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
I've already said that I was agnostic on the traditional take on the Resurrection: that Christ died, and literally was resurrected on the third day. I simply don't think we can know with absolute certainty. The Resurrection also gets us into the question of why Jesus had to die for us. Was He sacrificed because God is angry at us, and would only be placated by a blood sacrifice? I don't find this theology, penal substitution, consistent with the way I read the Bible and with my experience. However, many Christians are practically married to it. Canon Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Alban's in the UK, stated publicly that he didn't believe in penal substitution, and two Evangelical bishops were willing to attack him without even reading the full transcript of what he said.
Obviously, Resurrection and atonement are much too hard to deal with, so I'm going skip right to the Eschaton. The Eschaton (noun) is the final event in the divine plan, the end of the world. It derives from the Greek, eskhaton, neuter of eskhatos, meaning last. Some conservative Evangelicals have read the Bible and determined that Christ will come, riding on the clouds, amidst the sound of trumpets. We'll be raptured, and meet him in the air. There's debate about the specific timings of the tribulation, and the thousand-year reign of Christ, or millenium. This diagram explains it all.
...personally, I think it all looks a bit superstitious.
In my reflection for MLK, I quoted James Cone, who said that African-Americans couldn't find justice in this life, and so looked forward to the Second Coming to find it. In so doing they refused to let injustice have the last word. They trusted God. Mainline Protestants in America may have lost sight of that trust. We're generally middle-class Whites. We can insulate ourselves from the sufferings of the world, if we wish. There's a trait in social psychology called belief in a just world. It's divided into belief in immanent justice, and belief in ultimate justice. The former means believing that the world is just in its present state. It is associated with such actions as blaming the poor for their own plight. In other words, it is willful ignorance. For example, just by being American and breathing, we participate in an economic system that exploits the poor, especially those in the Global South. Think clothing, coffee, and chocolate. As the bumper sticker says, if you aren't outraged, you haven't been paying attention. However, walking around in a permanent state of outrage isn't too good for your mental health.
Belief in ultimate justice, then, is what really gets us through the day. It worked for African-Americans. It worked for the Latin Americans involved in liberation theology. It works for me. Although I'm a skeptic, I know that, through Christ, God has defeated sin and death. The Resurrection sustains us until we get to the Last Judgment. It continues to sustain us, because it's not an event that happened just once in history. The Resurrection is now, and always. It is Oscar Romero saying, "If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people." It is Joan of Arc saying, "Hold the cross high, so that I may see it through the flames!" It is Harvey Milk saying, in the tape he recorded in the event of his assasination, that you "gotta give them hope."
Christian martyrs over the years have trusted that one Resurrection isn't the end of the story, that God will accept their sacrifices of justice, mercy and humility (Micah 6:8), and that God will return to set things straight. There's no evidence that Harvey Milk was particularly religious, but it seems he did the same. He probably didn't call it the Resurrection, but he seems to have trusted in it anyway.
Jesus said that he did not know the appointed time of the Last Judgment. It is not for human beings to know or to worry about. It's all set, it's all planned out. All we have to do, then, is to strive to bring about God's reign here on earth. As Micah says (NRSV), "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Do this, and trust Jesus that, on the Day of Judgment ...
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
... all the tombs will be empty.