Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Cosmic Christ

At the church I attend on Sunday mornings, the 8 a.m. service ("Faith at Eight") is usually a small gathering of people, including the rector, deacon, and 10-12 parishioners, who come together to say prayers, share readings from the lectionary, participate in a reflection period (during which we talk about the readings and whatever else is on our minds), and share Holy Communion. The following is a reflection that I gave on Sunday, September 16, 2012, about a reading from the lectionary.

Mark 8:27-30 27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am? 28And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, ”But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah." 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a question with many levels of meaning, since it concerns not only his identity, but also his mission, the purpose of his ministry, and the meaning of his teachings. And thus it leads us to ask ourselves, “Who is Jesus for us today?”
      But to ask this question is also to ask, “Who or what or where is God?” Can we say anything with certainty about God? Is the concept of God something we can describe with any degree of adequacy? Does the concept of God transcend the limits of language? If the term “God” is a name we use to refer to absolute being, ultimate realty, or the guiding principle of the universe, then what is our relation to this absolute being, ultimate reality, or guiding principle? Is God a cosmic presence, truth, or reality? If so, is there a cosmic Jesus?
       The question of who Jesus is has cosmic importance, and its answer has cosmic implications. Who then is the cosmic Jesus?
      Maybe the cosmic Jesus is the Jesus who brings to us the consciousness that we are one with the universe, and that the universe is always changing. Maybe the cosmic Jesus is the Jesus who teaches us that everything is interdependent, and that our own well-being depends on the well-being of others, as well as on the well-being of the world in which we live. Maybe the cosmic Jesus is the Jesus who teaches us that God is creator, redeemer, and sustainer of the universe. Maybe he's the Jesus who teaches us that God is the eternal principle on which is based all being and becoming. 
      Maybe he's also the Jesus whose appearance is like lightning, and who’s more powerful than the Big Bang. The Jesus who transcends the realm of asteroids, comets, planets, stars, constellations, and galaxies. The Jesus who’s not earthbound; the Jesus of cosmic infinity. The Jesus who says, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
      Because there’s a here and now Jesus, and there’s a cosmic Jesus, who are one and the same. An earthly Jesus, and a heavenly Jesus. A bodily Jesus, and a spiritual Jesus. A Jesus of human history, and a Jesus of universal power, who are not two different beings, but the one Jesus, who lives and reigns in unity with the Holy Spirit and God the Almighty.
      Jesus may be seen as not only a redeemer and savior, but also a cosmic reality whose transformative power extends throughout the universe, and whose sacramental presence is a cosmic mystery. He's a Jesus who was crucified, who suffered death for our sake, and who ascended into heaven. He's a Jesus who resurrects the dead, and who leads us to eternal life. He's a Jesus who walked among us, and who remains with us for all eternity.
      He may also be seen as not only a scriptural Jesus, but a living Jesus. A corporeal Jesus, and a transfigured Jesus. An electric Jesus who electrifies us with his eternal and universal power. An electric power Jesus who has more power than Baltimore Gas and Electric. A cosmic power Jesus who never has a power outage, and who always sustains us whenever we’re in need. A Jesus who teaches us there’s no greater power than the power of love. A Jesus who supports us in times of trial, and who gives us strength in our faith.
      If there’s a cosmic Jesus, then is there also an interplanetary and intergalactic Jesus, a Jesus who transcends the limits of time and space? Indeed, a Facebook page for the “Interplanetary Church of Jesus Christ the Galactic Savior” makes the very odd and amusing claim that “God Almighty gave us the technology of space flight so we could spread HIS healing gospel to the extraterrestrials!”
      The question may then be asked: if there are other worlds of living beings in the universe, has a cosmic Jesus been crucified in those worlds and redeemed sinners on other planets and in other galaxies? Is Jesus a redeemer and savior only for our own world? When Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” is he perhaps saying his kingdom is not localized to any one particular world? (I’m jesting here; I don’t seriously mean that Jesus is flying around somewhere in another galaxy saving sinners!)
       But speaking seriously, I think the cosmic Jesus is also the Jesus through whom is revealed the unity of the logos and cosmos. In the original Greek of the New Testament, the word “logos” means “word” or “law,” and the word “kosmos” means “world” or “order.” The Gospel According to John (1:1) says “ν ρχ ν Λόγος, κα Λόγος ν πρς τν Θεόν, κα Θες ν Λόγος” (“En archē ēn ho Lógos, kai ho Lógos ēn pros ton Theón, kai Theós ēn ho Lógos”)—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is the Word incarnate, the Word given human form. John continues, in Chapter 1 verse 10, ” ν τ κόσμ ν, κα κόσμος δι᾿ ατο γένετο, κα κόσμος ατν οκ γνω” (“en tō kosmō ēn, kai ho kosmos di’ autou egeneto, kai ho kosmos auton ouk egnō”)—“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.” Thus, the Word or law (the logos of the cosmos) is both immanent and transcendent. Jesus is in the world, but he also transcends the world. The cosmos is sustained by God’s law, by God’s will, and by God’s love, as personified by the cosmic Jesus. The logos governs the cosmos, and the cosmos is an embodiment of the logos. The logos is also the ultimate truth or reality of the cosmos. Although the universe may often appear impersonal to us and may also appear indifferent or hostile to us, the ultimate truth or reality of the universe is personified by the cosmic Christ, who reveals to us that at all times and in all places God loves us and watches over us. The logos is the key to understanding the mysteries of the universe. The logos may also be an underlying cosmic principle that explains things. It may even be a principle of cosmic necessity or destiny.
      We may thus have to consider how we can reconcile the concepts of “cosmos” and “chaos.” Is chaos governed by the cosmos, or is the cosmos governed by chaos? Is the universe ruled by order or disorder, by chance or necessity? Is divine love a governing principle of the universe?
      Belief in a cosmic Christ may be found in Christian mysticism, insofar as it may lead to a quest for union with God. (Union with God is in fact what happens when we share the Eucharist; we are united with the precious body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.)
      Insofar as belief in a cosmic Christ leads to a quest for union with God, it may also be similar in some ways to other kinds of religious mysticism. But it doesn’t necessarily eliminate any distinction between God and ourselves or between God and the universe. It may or may not be compatible with various forms of panentheism (the belief that all things are in God, and that God is in all things), and it may actually be incompatible with pantheism (the belief that God is identical to the universe).
      Both pantheism (the belief that all things are manifestations of God) and panentheism (the belief that all things are in God and permeated by God’s being) may fail to distinguish between the Creator and the created, and they may therefore be incompatible with a belief “in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made” (Nicene Creed).
      Panentheism may not allow for any ontological distinction to be made between the universe and God, if the universe and God are seen as having the same mode of being. It may also be taken to imply that God’s presence is somehow to be found in material things, and it may therefore not fully recognize God’s transcendence of the material world.
      Belief in a cosmic Christ may be further distinguishable from panentheism if it's a belief that God is capable of being in every part of the universe, as opposed to a belief that God is actually in every part of the universe. Belief that God is capable of being in every part of the universe may allow for the existence of evil and for the existence of that which has not yet been redeemed by the saving grace of God.
      Belief in a cosmic Christ may also be distinguishable from pantheism insofar as it may be a belief about the presence of God in the cosmos, as opposed to a belief about the identity of God and the cosmos.
      Cosmological Christology may be a quest for a better understanding of the relation between Christ and the cosmos, and it may also be a quest for a better understanding of the cosmic Christ. It may also enable us to reconcile our theology and Christology with the insights of modern science concerning the origin, evolution, and destiny of the universe.
      Hebrews 1:3 says, [Jesus] “reflects the glory of God…upholding the universe by his word of power,” and Colossians 1:17 says, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Thus, the cosmic Christ is our hope, our sustainer, and our salvation.
      The cosmic Christ is also the Christ who said to his disciples after he had risen from the dead, “I will be with you always, to the end of time” (Matt 28:29). The cosmic Christ is the Christ who, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer of the New Zealand Prayer Book, is “Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be.”2
      Interestingly, there may be similarities (as well as differences) between the kinds of viewpoints taken by Christianity toward the nature of cosmic reality and the kinds of viewpoints taken by other religious and philosophical traditions. For example, just as some Vedanta philosophers describe the world as the body of Brahman, some Christian theologians describe the world as the body of God. Just as some Buddhist thinkers describe the dissolution of the self in the state of enlightenment, some Christian thinkers describe the dissolution of the self in the state of union with God.
      Sallie McFague, Professor Emerita of Theology at Vanderbilt University, says, in an essay entitled “The Scope of the Body: the Cosmic Christ” (1996), 

“The body of God…is also the cosmic Christ—the loving, compassionate God on the side of those who suffer, especially the vulnerable and excluded. All are included, not only in their liberation and healing, but also in their defeat and despair. Even as the life-giving breath extends to all bodies in the universe, so does the liberating, healing, and suffering love of God. The resurrected Christ is the cosmic Christ, the Christ freed from the body of Jesus of Nazareth, to be present in and to all bodies. The New Testament appearance stories attest to the continuing empowerment of the Christic paradigm in the world: the liberating, inclusive love of God for all is alive in and through the entire cosmos. We are not alone as we attempt to practice the ministry of inclusion, for the power of God is incarnate throughout the world, erupting now and then where the vulnerable are liberated and healed, as well as where they are not.”3


FOOTNOTES

1Interplanetary Church of Jesus Christ the Galactic Savior, online at https://www.facebook.com/pg/Interplanetary-Church-of-Jesus-Christ-the-Galactic-Saviour-143402275672805/about/?ref=page_internal.
2A New Zealand Prayer Book: He Karakia O Aotearoa (HarperCollins, 1997), p. 181.
3Sallie McFague, “The Scope of the Body: the Cosmic Christ,” in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, edited by Roger S. Gottlieb (New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 286.








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