The phrase causes discomfort and awkwardness. It seems somehow not quite appropriate in our current context. It carries the taint of discredited colonialism, the hints of harmful hierarchy and Christianity’s tragic history.

And yet, we say it relentlessly. It crops up constantly in our liturgy; it appears in devotional art and frequently finds a place in our hymnody.

We announce boldly – “Jesus is Lord”, or “Christ is King”. We speak of “the Lord God” and announce that this “Lord God” is “King of the universe,” “Lord of the nations,” “King of all kings”. It all feels faintly triumphalistic. It carries a disturbing air of arrogance that does not sit comfortably in our egalitarian liberal culture.

Christian history is littered with the tragic consequences of our unconscious use of language and our failure to see that words can lead to attitudes and actions that at times contradict the Spirit that is the source of our tradition. There is no question that, with disastrous consequences, we who hope to be “good news” have often failed to be sensitive to the impact of the words we have used in an attempt to share that “news”.

What is to be done?

Should we comb through our language and attempt to expunge every word or formulation that no longer sits comfortably in our contemporary context? Should we simply abandon the entire concept of the reign of God? Should we stop saying “Jesus is Lord”?

Might something be lost if we abandon ancient formulations in deference to modern sensibility? Does announcing that “Jesus is Lord” necessarily have to lead to arrogance, abuse and triumphalism?

The Sunday before Advent which we have just observed may point a way out of this conundrum. “The Reign of Christ Sunday” appoints an odd gospel reading for our liturgy. On the day we are announcing boldly that “Christ is Lord”, our Gospel reading proclaims that this “lord” died a despicable death on a cross. (Luke 23:33-43)

The lordship of Christ is not a mandate for manipulation, a justification for abuse, or an authorization to use power to get our own way. That is the power of the leaders and the soldiers in the story who,

scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’  (Luke 23:35, 36)

When we speak of God as “lord” in Christian tradition, we are in fact renouncing the power of “leaders” and “soldiers.” We are aligning ourselves with the power of Christ which is the power of the cross, a power that is unleashed by surrender and forgiveness.

In Christian tradition we say that Jesus was the embodiment of all that is most truly and deeply human. Jesus lived the fullness of love, beauty, gentleness, goodness, truth, and justice. We see in Jesus all that we were created to be and hope to become.

This year, on the Sunday before the “Reign of Christ” in the community where I serve, we baptized an infant. As I usually do, immediately following her baptism, I carried this luminous little being down the centre aisle pointing to her and saying to the congregation, “This is who you are. The beauty and light you see in this little person are your true nature”.

But the “Reign of Christ” Sunday goes a step further. It affirms, not only our true identity, but also the radical faith that the most powerful person in the room during that baptism service was the infant we baptized.

As I looked at the faces of the congregation looking at the infant we had just baptized, I saw softness and openness. I did not create that. It was the helpless infant I carried in my arms who had the power to open hearts; she had the power to reconnect us with an awareness of our true nature as beings created for love. She had the power to cause us to soften and open. This is the greatest power on earth. It is the triumphant power of love and life we proclaim when we say, “Christ is lord”.

The faith affirmation that “Jesus is lord,” also commits us to the radical notion that, by declaring “Jesus is lord,” we renounce all other lords. It is a profoundly political statement. If I affirm that Love is lord, I turn away from all lesser lords. I turn away from the lordship of getting my own way. I renounce the lordship of ideology. I reject the reign of consumerism, of financial gain and of abusive self-serving power that excludes, divides, dehumanizes and destroys.

When I say, “Christ is Lord”, I commit myself to the Jesus way. The Jesus way ultimately empowers me to the great act of surrender which Jesus embodied throughout his life and which he manifest on the cross when he is said to have prayed to God, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”. (Luke 23:34)

The lordship of Christ seeks only to find the path to heart-opening. It will always lead to life and prospering for all creation and all inhabitants of creation. Perhaps, if we could boldly announce and truly live the reality that “Christ is lord,” the world might see in us a guide to the light, truth and beauty that are the true power at the heart of all life.