Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Jesus Prayer: '...Christ...'

"Wherever Jesus is acknowledged as the Christ of God, Christian faith is to be found...Christianity is alive as long as there are people who, as the disciples once did, profess their faith in him and, following him, spread his liberating rule in words, deeds and new fellowship." -J├╝rgen Moltmann 
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy..."

"Christ" is not Jesus' last name. Such a statement might seem obvious, but common usage suggests otherwise. We so casually use the term, we seldom take much time to recognize the profound implications of employing it.

As with "Lord," there is a transcendent and universal quality to "Christ." And when we attach it to something so concrete and particular, a paradox again emerges. Paul Tillich wrote, "He who is the Christ is he who brings the new eon, the new reality" (ST1, 49). The Christ is the anointed, the messiah, the one through whom the world will be reconciled to the God to whom it actually belongs and toward whom it has been so hostile. When we refer to Jesus as the Christ, we are assigning an eternal and universal quality to a concrete and particular human person, but in a way that is different from when we call him 'Lord.' It is not foremost a proclamation of divinity (although that is the case once the rubber hits the road), but a proclamation of a particular kind of future. We are proclaiming that salvation has come in this person. We are essentially announcing the resurrection. For in his concrete reality, it is the resurrection which gives eternal quality to the life of the man, Jesus, from beginning to end. It is the truth that resurrection is his future which gives his mother the ability to proclaim, "the Mighty One has done great things," even before the child makes his way to the ground (Luke 1:46-55). It is because resurrection is his future that Jesus is able to say "You are already clean... If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit" (John 15:3,5). And it is resurrection which qualifies Jesus' identity even as he hangs on a cross and cries, "...why have you forsaken me?"

When we pray to Jesus as the Christ, we confess not only a future for his own life and death, we also confess a future for God's world and all reality. We are confessing that the future of this concrete reality is caught up in God's eternal future and that God's future is our future. When we say "Lord Jesus Christ..." we cast ourselves in anticipation and we proclaim the true basis of mercy and justice, we witness both to the eternal significance and to the provisionality of our situation. We announce salvation, that torment will not prevail, that death will not have the final word, and that restoration has come even to the darkest and most desolate corners of human experience.

When we pray "...Jesus Christ..." we anticipate a resurrection of which the raising of the crucified Jesus is the firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20).

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