21 Feb In the Name of: Power and its Deconstruction in Christ
While political leaders like President Trump may seek to claim Christ as their Lord, when they embody power in ways contrary to Christ, they are, in actuality, taking the Lord’s name in vain.
This is because in Jesus the Christ our whole understanding of power is deconstructed, despite the fact that often those in the church, as well as those beyond the church, invested in power structures would rather not face this.
If we look at the cross of Christ, if we face the deconstructing of power of the cross, we cannot remain the same. Saint Paul is honest about this.
One thing that early Jesus communities had to come to terms with was the cross. For all the great teachings of Jesus, for all the stories of Jesus healing people and liberating people from evil and challenging corrupt religious authorities, the grim reality was that Jesus had been executed, in the most shameful of ways, by the Empire.
This execution had been brought about through a legitimate (though corrupted) legal proceeding and Jesus, their spiritual leader, had been condemned to death. This was a state sanctioned death sentence.
Paul, and the communities he writes to, know this. They can’t ignore it. For them this has happened too recently to be glossed over. They can’t jump over this fact to focus only on the resurrection. They can’t simply reflect on Jesus’ wise teaching. They have to account for the cross and what this could possible mean.
When Paul writes to the community in Corinth for the first time he faces this issue head on and is honest. As a Jew, Paul says ‘for Jewish people Christ crucified is stumbling stone, a scandal (skandalon)’. He goes on to say that ‘for Greeks (maybe those drenched in tales of Greek gods who are all powerful, or maybe those educated in Greek philosophy) the reality that Christ is crucified is foolish’ (1 Corinthians 1.23).
Yet, Paul goes on to claim that despite all this, Christ crucified is about power: true power revealed.
Paul claims that in Christ crucified the power of God and the Wisdom of God are embodied (1 Corinthians 1.24). Here, in this, we see what God is like. The essence and energy, the nature and power of the Divine are revealed in this one, Christ crucified, the one who gives self away.
While humans continue to erect gods in their own images: proclaiming that God favours the tyrants or the rich, or that God is on their ‘side’, in Christ we are confronted with the God who chooses to be entirely vulnerable, to express power in radical non-violence, in self-giving, in extravagant hospitality – not in controlling or intimidating or excluding.
In Christ crucified we are confronted with a form of power that is entirely in contrast to the kinds of power so often embodied by the rich, the politicians and the elite in our societies, including by many of those who claim Christ as their own.
In Christ Jesus our understandings of power are unravelled and remade. This is the mystery and challenge and hope of the incarnation, of the cross, of the resurrection and of the kingdom – the kin-dom.
Christ, who gives life and love and power and self away, reveals and embodies the heart of the Divine and opens wide this Divine dynamic, here and now – the kin-dom come among us.
We don’t have to fall into despair or be captured by hatred, or held hostage to rage about those like President Trump who misuse power. The God of the cross, the Divine, whose power is shown in weakness – but that is stronger than violence and death is God, not the tyrants of the day.
To seek to follow the way of Christ is to be called into something radically different. As the Beatitudes state, it is the call to embody Christ’s costly, blessed way of peace and justice making, authenticity, vulnerability, humility and mercy in our doing and speaking and being, even when it means enduring persecution (Matthew 5. 1-12) .
And all the while, as we seek to do this and fail and try again, we are invited to imbibe and exhale hope. This is because the way of Jesus is not some theory to agree with or disagree with, but in contrast it is an invitation to dive into this Divine reality and to allow ourselves to be nourished and transformed along this wild way by the crucified, risen One.
Peace and hope be with you,
Rev Dr Sally Douglas