Whakapono: Jesus the Christ
The name of Jesus has been told in story, spoken in prayers and sung in hymns of worship for two thousand years. Jesus sits at the heart of the Christian tradition. Despite this, it can be easy for us to slowly lose connection with who this Jesus figure really was (and is) to us. Over time, simple faith in Christ can drift into cliché. Jesus enters into our phrases of speech in expressions that roll off the Christian tongue, but they have become anaemic, losing their potency to a shallow familiarity. We talk about Jesus being “in our hearts”, “our best friend”, or our own “personal Lord and Saviour”. “What would Jesus do?” is imprinted on a purchased bracelet, a commodified Jesus who can be bought for a reasonable price at the local store. These ideas often start out as a way to capture something meaningful about our faith, but if they don’t develop substance they can fail to take us further into the mystery of Jesus the Christ.
Maybe it’s because we’ve boiled Jesus down to a figure who saves us from our sins and gets us into heaven. If that’s the crux of who Jesus is, then there’s nothing much more to say. But Jesus was not a sanitised, polite and placatory Christ. The Jesus of the New Testament is a radical, disrupting and revolutionary presence. When they first used the phrase ‘Lord and Saviour’ to describe Jesus, they used it because that was the title reserved only for Caesar. It highlighted the provocative challenge to the empire that was embodied in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
When we are invited to follow Jesus, we are invited to follow a revolutionary figure. One who challenged and disrupted the religious, social and political conventions of the day. One who reached beyond the margins that were set in place by systems of status, whether it be religious or political. A man who claimed to embody a kingdom, an alternative reality, a way of being in the world that reached out to those who were excluded and oppressed. And this has implications for us in the present. What does it mean for this Jesus to continue revolutionising our lives now? Christians follow a man who was executed by the State; a man who was deemed an enemy of religion; a man who offered radical grace to those on the 'outside', and profound disturbance to those on the 'inside'.
The New Testament writers spoke about this Jesus in ways that indicate there was more going on here than just another prophetic figure. They wrote of the Spirit of Christ, they used divine imagery, they argued that there was something cosmic at play. And they suggest that this Spirit of the revolutionary Christ is still at work, active and alive in the world. We continue to look for this Spirit in our places of work, family, community, and society. We can ask ourselves the question, what is the Spirit of Christ revolutionising now, and how might I participate?
For the Christian, the challenge is to explore what it means to still be confronted by the Spirit of Jesus the Christ. Or is Jesus just reduced down to a name to say, a brand to attach to, or a song to sing? This is why the gathered community is so important. One of the ideas of church community is to be a space where we are reminded of the things that truly matter. To interrupt our tendency to drift into cliché and comfort. To be invited into a collection of people gathered around the memory of what has happened in Christ, and to be provoked by the Spirit of what is happening now. This invitation is both liberating and challenging; safe and dangerous; baptised into the Spirit of the revolutionary Jesus who breathes us out into the world.