‘Jesus is Lord’ (Rom 10:10) was proclaimed by the early Church as its most concise creedal statement.
Rather than some pious cliché, this was, for the early Christians, a radical political and subversive statement. To say ‘Jesus is Lord’ was testing and provoking the Roman pledge of allegiance that every Roman citizen had to shout when they raised their hand to the Roman insignia: ‘Caesar is Lord’.
Early Christians were quite aware that their ‘citizenship’ was in a new universal kingdom, announced by Jesus (Phil 3:20), and that the kingdoms of this world were not their primary loyalty systems. Our Lord—Jesus—showed no undue loyalty either to his Jewish religion or to his Roman-occupied Jewish country. Instead, he radically critiqued them both, and in that he revealed and warned against the idolatrous relationships that many people have with today’s idols, like excessive nationalism or obsessive devotion to money.
Furthermore, the words we pledge each Sunday are not just some otherworldly ‘churchy’ language.
We should never forget when we solemnly recite the Creed—‘I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ’—that Jesus was a layman! He was not a priest or scribe, or in any way an established person. He is called a priest in the New Testament on theological grounds, but, socially, he was not part of the religious establishment. Sometimes, we tend to think he was, and so miss the scandalous edge to his behaviour. In other words, the founder of our religion, and the source of our holiness, is inextricably connected to the real world and lives of lay people.
Of course, Jesus of Nazareth is not just some figure from history. In some mysterious way, beyond our understanding but not beyond our belief, he is still with us. Jesus promised to be so until the end of time. He keeps his promise. Not a mere memory or influence, not merely living on through his followers in the movement he founded (as Marx or Mohammed does), not a vague spiritual presence, but corporeally with us; the whole Risen Christ with us, invisible, but really present. This is the Christian belief. It is an enormous claim. Nevertheless, with a leap of faith, we make the claim as we pray the Credo.
For we are baptised into an ongoing and intense union with Christ. It is that permanent union with Jesus which achieves our required surrender of faith. We do it ‘in Christ’.
The bus driver going about his work, the nurse caring for the patients in hospital, because they are baptised Christians, do all they do in Jesus Christ and for God the Father. They are bathed in the presence and energy of God.
Perhaps only poetry helps us, as disciples, to express this sublime truth:
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Christ—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
– Gerard Manley Hopkins
Our personal relationship to this living Christ, Jesus—Our Lord—is our most precious treasure of faith. ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Rom 10:10) and faith in him is our only way forward, in season and out.
This article is part of a series of reflections entitled ‘I Believe…Help My Unbelief’: Meditations on the Creed by Br Mark O’Connor FMS.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.