Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Christ the King

Re-reading the Anglo-Saxon religious poem, The Dream of the Rood, has caused Suzannah to reflect on some differences between how those Christians viewed Christ and how we do:
...[T]he most obvious point of difference between modern religion and The Dream of the Rood is probably the contrasting view of Jesus. After all, in the last hundred or so years, we've had Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild; we've had Radical Revolutionary Jesus, we've had Hell, What's That? Jesus, we've had Wise Human Teacher Jesus, and we've had Only Wants Your Personal Fulfilment Jesus.

Well, this is Anglo-Saxon Jesus:
The young hero stripped himself then (that was God Almighty)

strong and resolute. He ascended onto the high gallows,

brave in the sight of many there, since he wished to release mankind.
Warrior, Mighty King, Lord of the Heavens, Wielder of Triumphs—this is what the Dream of the Rood calls Christ. The Anglo-Saxons, coming from the cold hard myths of the North into Christianity, probably could not help seeing Christ as the epitome of what was honourable and good in their own eyes: the self-sacrificing warrior-king who will enjoy fellowship in the mead-hall of heaven with his faithful thegns. Even after “the King's fall” the poet speaks of the dead Christ in terms that hint at more to come:
They laid him down there, weary-limbed; they positioned themselves at his body's head,

there they gazed at the Lord of heaven, and he rested himself there for a while,

weary after the great battle.
Strangely, I've heard criticisms of this particular view of Christ as the conquering King. Now it's perfectly true: Christ is also the prophet and the priest, also the sacrificial Lamb, and there was certainly defeat in His triumph. But can anyone say this view of Christ is wrong? Incomplete—maybe. But was it meant to be complete? Can you fault the Anglo-Saxons for their delight in one aspect of Christ that so often goes overlooked? Can we not rather say that the Saxons had a much healthier, a more full-orbed idea of kingship than we have?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism has one marvelous question that addresses this issue well:
Q. 26: How doth Christ execute the office of a king?

A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.
Christ the King was the particular joy of Anglo-Saxon Christians. We're embarrassed by the idea these days. It makes Christianity seem so...well, so manly. Or even worse – such a view might lead one to think that God hasn't planned on the Church's ultimate failure...that maybe, after all, Christ won the decisive battle on the Cross and the rest of history is just cleanup.

And you'd have to be crazy to believe that, right?
In Which I Read Vintage Novels: The Dream of the Rood
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