Thoughts on the Feast of Jesus Christ, Ruler of the Universe
November 24, 2019
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Our faith, spirituality, religiosity thrives on imagery. Today’s feast has historical and liturgical roots in a view of what we formerly called the Church Triumphant. The images of our youth give way to mature ways of seeing and believing. My parish church growing up on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio contained – probably still does since the parishioners blocked the bishop’s plan to shut them down – contained just such imagery of triumph. Walking down its center aisle and looking above the high altar on the ceiling was a mural of one old bearded man sitting on a throne and to his right, also enthroned, sat a younger bearded man. Hovering over their heads was a dove enveloped in a sunlit aura. As a child this image of the Holy Trinity impressed me greatly just as did the image on the side altar. As I remember it at least 20 feet tall was the woman crowned with stars holding her hands outward. Streaming from her hands was that same aura taking the shape of sunrays.
So embedded was this image of Holy Trinity in me when Sr. Mary Thomas asked my 2nd Grade class who is the Holy Spirit, I pronounced to her exceedingly convincingly, “The Holy Spirit is a pigeon.” These images obviously made a deep personal impression on me. Which is why it took many years for me to set them aside when my search for God required it. Call it the experience of first love or deep questioning or even simple maturity, I found myself – perhaps you did also – discovering what it means to be a person and bearded men on thrones and women who are crowned by them for being spotless no longer imaged the person of God for me, or Mary either for that matter. What remains with me is person and the power of engaging in a personal relationship with whomever this God is.
I keep this in mind now when imaging God. The primal insight, the central revelation, and the personal presence about God we received from our ancestors in faith, the Jewish people, is Yahweh. Remember that when it came to the people, Moses asked of this voice from the burning bush, “Who shall I say sent me?” “Tell them I AM sent you” is the reply Moses heard. And as we all learned in Old Testament 101 Yahweh means I AM.
What this reply tells us is that before the people settled in their new land, before there ever was a temple, before prophets, 10 commandments and an ethic to live by there exists I AM – the Person who guides, inspires, loves, and teaches them how to act. God is not a person, God is Person itself.
The second point to consider along with personal God is God who emerges in and throughout the entire created universe (or is it universes these days?). The creating process pulls us forward and outward into the entirety of both what we know as well as what we don’t yet know of what we call the cosmos.
On this Feast of Jesus Christ, Ruler of the Universe we are particularly challenged to sustain the balance that includes both God who is Person and God who is Process.
We name Jesus as Ruler of the Universe not because of thrones and triumphs but because Jesus is Word. Christ as expressed and incarnated Word of God – the reality that assures us that once there was nothing and then there was something – is Ruler.
Nancy Ellen Abrams, in her book The God That Could Be Real, presents God as process. This perspective prioritizes our image of God as the emerging process that reveals to us the wonders and the progress of the cosmos. I appreciate her effort but I exercise caution when it seems she subjects our sense of God to process thereby submerging to our detriment the sense of God as person.
For example, she writes, “The God that is truly present is not a PERSON, so we won’t be hearing IT speak to us like A PERSON, but we can feel ITS presence as IT embraces us deep in our brains and emotions and unveils ITS perspective.” With apologizes to Abrams the CAPITALS are my addition, or, admittedly, my strong reaction.
Applying a balance of person and process here my response is that when I experience the deepest thought and emotions it most often is a response to an other person not an IT. When my time ends my hope is that I will journey from this life to new life in the company of God who inspires and loves me. That God is very definitely Person. This is what some philosophers call the ipseity of God.
Today’s reading from Colossians is one of those fundamental texts and therefore quite fitting for celebration of what matters most, as in God who rules the universe, whose Word created it. We read:
“God wanted all perfection to be found in Christ and all things to be reconciled through Christ and for Christ – everything in heaven and everything on earth – when Christ made peace by dying on the cross.” Colossians 1:20
What better image to show our faith in the Ruler of the Universe than to rule by giving one’s life.
A Prayer (JR)
Praise, Honor, and Glory be to you the All Holy, Merciful, and Just One. And to the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, who today we celebrate as Ruler of the Universe.
Our reach to you is both high and deep. The process of emergence reveals your expanding, heightening, and overflowing universal dimensions.
The personal depth you call us to reveals as well your personal, emotional, and mindful connection in your love for us.
With this feast we acknowledge the cycle of life in all creation – triumph and sorrow, life and death, endings and beginnings.
We pray to you, Personal Ruler and Universal Process, you are God now and forever.