50 Q. Why the next words:
“and is seated at the right hand of God”?
A. Because Christ ascended to heaven
to show there that he is head of his church,^1
the one through whom the Father rules all things.^2
^1 Eph. 1:20-23;5:23; Col. 1:18
^2 Matt. 28:18; John 5:22
51 Q. How does this glory of Christ our head
A. First, through his Holy Spirit
he pours out gifts from heaven
upon us his members.^1
Second, by his power
he defends us and keeps us safe
from all enemies.^2
^1 Eph. 4:10
^2 Ps. 2:9;110:1-2; John 10:28; Eph. 4:8
52 Q. How does Christ’s return
“to judge the living and the dead”
A. In all distress and persecution,
with uplifted head,
I confidently await the very judge
who has already offered himself to the judgment of God
in my place and removed the whole curse from me.^1
Christ will cast all his enemies and mine
into everlasting condemnation, ^2
but will take me and all his chosen ones
into the joy and glory of heaven.^3
^1 Luke 21:28; Rom. 8:23, 33; Phil. 3:20; Titus 2:13
^2 2 Thess. 1:6-7; 1 Thess. 4:16; Matt. 25:41
^3 Matt. 25:34
LORD’S DAY 19 (Q/A 50-52)
“Superlative of Superlatives”
My late maternal grandmother, Purificacion Dionida, who diligently attended and taught Sunday School classes for older adults used to describe God as “the One to whom all good superlatives belong.” If she were alive today, she would spurn the use of email or Facebook; from her little desk, she churned letters from her manual typewriter, or her preferred method: the good ol’ hand-written letter. I recall several birthday and Christmas card/letters where she reminded me to always pray and thank God with every good superlative.
It wasn’t until I began seminary that I learned of an ancient Near East way of expressing preeminence was to compare one unit to a larger unit: king of kings, lord of lords, song of songs. That is to say, of all the kings, this king is the real deal and surpasses all others. This lord surpasses all others. King Solomon’s song is the par excellence of all songs. Thus, superlative of superlatives.
In the last three weeks, no matter your political persuasion, there was annoyance and downright frustration at and directed towards Washington D.C. as open conflict erupted between Democrats and Republicans, factions within the Republican Party itself, between the House and Senate, and between the Congress and the White House, resulting in a government shutdown and a debt ceiling crisis that would have resulted in the U.S. government defaulting on its debts, with dire consequences for the global economy.
In the midst of the partisan gridlock, whose consequence was the furloughing of 800,000 federal employees (including a cousin of mine who worked for the Department of Energy who was told that he would be receiving an IOU), the chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Barry Black, would daily invoke the wisdom from on high. This caught the attention of The New York Times, which on October 6 wrote a piece titled “Give Us This Day, Our Daily Scolding: Senate Chaplain Shows His Disapproval During Morning Prayer.”
Here’s what he prayed on October 3 in the Senate chamber:
Have mercy upon us, O God, and save us from the madness. We
acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our
selfishness, and our pride. Create in us clean hearts, O God, and renew
a right spirit within us. Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting
to sound reasonable while being unreasonable. Remove the burdens of
those who are the collateral damage of this government shutdown,
transforming negatives into positives as You work for the good of those
who love You.
(Congressional Record, 113th Congress, 1st Session, vol. 159, no. 135, p. S7143)
Or this on October 4:
Today, give our lawmakers the vision and the willingness to see and
do Your will. Remove from them that stubborn pride which imagines
itself to be above and beyond criticism. Forgive them for the blunders
they have committed, infusing them with the courage to admit and
correct mistakes. Amen.
(Congressional Record, 113th Congress, 1st Session, vol. 159, no. 136, p. S7171)
What Chaplain Black expresses and invokes upon our policymakers is what only the God of gods, the Lord of lords can do and accomplish: the humbling of hearts, minds and wills that have gone wayward, that arrogates to itself authority, ultimate authority, to determine the fate of not only the 800,000 federal workers, but 300 million Americans, and, beyond that, the economy and livelihood of nearly 7 billion. Deep down, when given the right circumstances, capacity and power to effect one’s intentions and will, human nature likes to lord over others. Altruistic, noble aims may be articulated, but the heart is deceitful and can quickly transform to the miry muck where, by the time we know it, we think our position, or those who have joined us, are now the superlative of superlatives…the bottom line and the top line.
Q/A 50-52 are remarkable in asserting both the ultimate and decisive lordship of Jesus Christ and the benefits that emanate from that reality. This goes against human effort – individual, collective – to control others, to lord over others.
Q/A 50 reminds us Christ is head of the Church, and through Him, God rules all things. All. Not some, not part. All.
Q/A 51 reminds us that through the Holy Spirit, Christ provides and Christ defends and protects. Not in the past tense, but continually in the present and ongoing.
Q/A 52 reminds us that Christ is the judge….judge of the heart, judge of our lives, judge of all.
Christ’s ascension, and through Him, the gift of the Holy Spirit, expresses the totality and comprehensiveness of His rule and ways.
When the nonsense of human exercise of authority results in injustice, suffering, violence, or the neglect of the poor, needy, and sick, we find our true and certain hope in the Lord Christ, who is the superlative of superlatives of all that is good and righteous.
This is far from a complacency, apathy, or indifference towards the world and the world around us. Far from it. The Protestant Reformers were not escapists. Remember that the Heidelberg theologians were commissioned by the political leader of the Palatinate region, so the Reformed faith that was being expounded was a thorough-going public theology.
Q/A 50-52 is a stark reminder for both those who govern and those who are the governed that all works, all service – indeed every facet of our lives and our relationships – are to be done with and in the view that the triune God, through Christ, in the Spirit is the head, is the defender and protector, is the judge. And whenever our human natures inch towards or are comfortable in feeling like the superlative of superlatives, there, at the door of our hearts, and at the doorstep of every power and principality, is the ascended One, knocking, and setting us and the world properly in its place, in this life and in the life to come.