In the book of the Apocalypse (also known as Revelations) Saint John at one stage has a vision of a being that terrifies him. He describes what he saw like this:
…I saw one like a Son of man… His head and his hair were white with the whiteness of wool, like snow, his eyes like a burning flame, his feet like burnished bronze… out of his mouth came a sharp sword, double edged, and his face was like the sun shining with all its force (Rev 1:13-16).
John writes that he was so afraid when he saw this being that he fell down as if dead. But then the being in the vision touched him and said: ‘Do not be afraid; it is I, the First and the Last; I am the Living One, I was dead and look—I am alive for ever and ever and I hold the keys of death and the underworld’ (Rev 1:17-18).
Who was this being? It was of course Jesus, the one with whom John had lived for three years. Why would Jesus who was so close to John, appear to him in this frightening form? Probably to remind John and us, who he is. Not just the Jesus whose name we carelessly throw around as a swear word, but Jesus who is Son of God, who will come to judge the living and the dead. This is the one we believe in. When we die we will all come before him face to face and all people of every religion will understand who He is and what He has done for us.
At the moment we are seeing huge changes in the world around us. So much earthly power which seemed to be untouchable has collapsed over night. Even the great structures of the Church seem to be crumbling. In many ways it is a very disturbing, even frightening time. But I think that we need to remember who it is we believe in and who it is we put our trust in. If we put our trust and hope in earthly power we will be disappointed, as we know only too well, because people will let us down. If we rely too much on the human side of our Church we will be disappointed, as we have been. But the one we trust in and believe in is Jesus Christ who is God. All things are in his power and all things are completely subject to him.
Sometimes you get the impression especially from Hollywood, that the battle between good and evil, between God and Satan, is an equal one. It is not. There is no question of evil being equal to God. All things are subject to God and I think we need to be reminded of that.
As a priest—especially at the moment—I need to keep reminding myself that Jesus is the one I worship as God and try to serve. If I stay focused on the world around me I find myself getting depressed or disillusioned. Also if I spend too much time worrying about the state of the Church I also find it hard to keep going. But the Lord keeps reminding me that He is the one I need to stay focused on, because He is the one in charge. He is master of all things. What we see happening in the Church at the moment is the work of his power purifying his Church, because He loves us and will not allow his people to continue with poison festering under the skin. And so He allows his Church to be purified and renewed, which is what we see happening. I have no doubt that what is happening in the world is also a kind of melt-down that God is allowing which will bring many people back to him. There is nothing like a crisis to focus the mind!
When people have a certain amount of power they like to show it off and make it felt. People who are really powerful don’t seem to feel the need to show it off as much. But God who is all-powerful, goes one step further and shows his power in weakness. This is an extraordinary thing and something we find very difficult to get our heads around.
The greatest demonstration of God’s power was shown to us in the death of Jesus on the cross. God did the exact opposite of what we would do and showed his power by not doing anything; by appearing to be a failure. So the people laughed at him and mocked him, not realising that what they looked at was a demonstration of the power of God. This is why we use the symbol of the cross and why it is so powerful. This is also why Satan hates the symbol of the cross, because it is a symbol of the extraordinary power of God and it is a reminder of the event that broke the power of sin and death.
St. Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians says,
We are preaching Christ crucified; to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jew or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God (1Cor 1:22).
What the power of Jesus on the cross also shows us is that in the bleakest and darkest situations of pain and suffering, loneliness and abandonment, Christ is there with us, in his strength. We are never alone no matter what we are going through. God is with us.
Jesus Christ is our king, the most powerful king on earth. If we accept him as our king, we also share in his power, but it is not a power as we normally understand it and this is why many people find it hard to accept. We want something that we can see and touch. We want to know that we are important and that our King is the greatest of all. But God in his wisdom knows that this isn’t the most important kind of power.
If Jesus is Lord and God as we say we believe He is, then we have nothing to be afraid of.
Every being in heaven, on earth and under the earth,
shall bend the knee at the name of Jesus;
and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10-11).