Images and quotations have come together for me this morning, bringing with them reflections on our relationship with Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
“Finally,” wrote Walt Whitman, “shall come the poet worthy that name; the true Son of God shall come singing his songs.” Whitman’s image has led me to think of Jesus as being a poet—our greatest poet of the spirit, whose creation, the Kingdom of God, remains the highest expression of the power and beauty of what we Friends might call “that of God in every one.”
I know that Jesus did not invent the idea of the Kingdom. What he called the Kingdom of God was a dream shared by the oppressed in his day, a dream that looked to the end of this world of suffering, sin, and death and the birth of a new world of tsedeq—righteousness and justice—and shalom—peace, health, prosperity, even, perhaps, immortality—everything that makes for human well-being and fulfillment. Although Jesus did not create the dream of the Kingdom, and although he seems to have shared a popular expectation of its imminent but future fulfillment, Jesus nonetheless so incarnated the dream in his life and in the possibilities he opened up for those he touched that he moved the dream from the realm of the ideal to the real. Through the power of his poetic genius and the depth of his love, Jesus reached into God’s future and brought a living seed of that future back into the present—a seed that, as he described, grows in darkness and breaks forth into light unexpectedly.
Another image, a striking one, is from Albert Schweitzer’s book The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer said that Jesus threw himself upon the wheel of history in an attempt to bring it to a halt, to bring this world to an end and to usher in the Kingdom of God in its fullness and power; but the wheel continued to turn, and it crushed him. Even now, said Schweitzer, his mangled body hangs on that wheel as it turns, and “this is His victory and His reign.” I’ve meditated on this image often and over many years, and I can only agree that Jesus’ sacrifice was a victory, not because it placated a vindictive God, but because by it he diverted the wheel of history onto a new course, opening up a new world of possibilities within the old.
But the wheel turns yet, and the innocent still are crushed by it. Sometimes in the silence of worship I seem to hear the voices of those who fall under the wheel in our time. They seem to be crying out for the presence of Christ, the Christ we meet in Jesus, the poet who brings the light of tsedeq and shalom into the darkness of their world. And as I reflect on their cries in the light of Whitman’s query, “Who shall soothe these feverish children?”, in the light of the new possibilities opened up by the poetic genius of Jesus, and, in particular this morning, in the light of our Quaker tradition, I must acknowledge in fear and trembling that the longed-for poet is I—is each of us.
For this is the central experience of Quakerism, the basis of our way of life and our witness to the world, that the spirit that was in Jesus is in us and can be the Light and Life and Power by which we live. As Paul said: “With faces unveiled, we reflect as in a mirror the glory of the Lord and are transformed, from glory to glory, into his image…. I live now, no longer I, but Christ lives in me…. We are all members of the one body of Christ; we are all members of one another.”
So although I know that the turning of the wheel of time crushed the poet Jesus long ago, I take courage in the knowledge that his spirit lives on and seeks to be incarnate in us, and I pray, therefore, for our transformation. May the seed that grows in darkness and blossoms where least expected grow and blossom and flourish in me—and in all of us. May we, in the unveiling silence of our worship, be joined to the incomprehensible suffering of humanity and of all creation, powerfully typified in the crucified Christ, and in that crucible be transformed into his image, made of one mind with the poetic genius that creates the Kingdom, made fully conscious and cooperating members of his universal body, that we, too, may become poets of the Kingdom, bringing songs of tsedeq and shalom for those who suffer.
In observance of National Poetry Month, I offer the following transcription of vocal ministry from December 29, 1991 (reprinted from my journal). I hope to follow it soon with another post on the topic of “the turning of the wheel.”