“Again, we repeat and proclaim that our Christian word in the midst of all this, in the midst of our catastrophe, is a word of faith, hope and love.” (Kairos Palestine Document, 1.5.1)
“But Kairos is also about expressing hope, and this hope is expressed mainly through action. Christians in small towns in the USA are today discussing the Kairos Palestine document, and the pressure for things to change in the Holy Land is beginning to come from below, and nothing will be able to stop that.” (The Rev. Edwin Arrison, Kairos Southern Africa, March 2015)
“My kingdom is not from this world.” (John 18:36 NRSV)
In this season of Lent, Christians follow the path of Jesus through his homeland, with his disciples, to the encounter with the powers of empire in Jerusalem. This confrontation with empire is the context of the events of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, interrogation, defense and crucifixion.
John 18 takes us through Jesus experience after confronting his inquisitors before being handed over to Pilate in chains as a criminal to the occupying Roman state for further judgment. The gospel account takes the reader through Jesus’ non-violent resistance to accusations and abandonment by a trusted friend, Peter, through administrative detention by religious and secular powers. We are taken through Jesus suffering of violent assault by police (18:22). We become witnesses to the suffering and profound encounter with occupation in its varied political, religious, human rights, and justice dimensions. Jesus suffers because of fear, because of collusion, because of speaking truth to power.
This chapter asks us to reflect on the structures of empire and the rules of the occupying government for all, including the bargains struck to normalize everyday life in the religious and economic realms and keep a false peace. Its themes resonate deeply with the current Palestinian context. This is the reality into which the Kairos Palestine document calls us as Christians in today’s global context. We are called to action, to join the non-violent resistance to tyranny and the work for a just peace.
Kairos and Kosmos
Kairos as a Greek notion denotes time, as an unfolding season or opportune moment. It acknowledges the contingency of now and addresses the possibilities inherent in the current order by exposing the changing circumstances or the prevailing situations which must be confronted, elucidated and transformed. Kairos is both a moment and a call impinging upon those who have been addressed by the season which is breaking open. Likewise, it means being courageous in naming whether such a season is of God’s reign and to test the spirits of the age. In contrast, Kosmos denotes the structures and systems of the current historical context: it is the world as we know it, a world that, especially in times of urgent political and spiritual crisis, is confronted by the divine challenge of kairos.
“I have spoken openly (or boldly) to the world (kosmos) (18:20). These words are spoken to the high priest Annas, questioning Jesus about his disciples (the word used here means “learners”) and teachings. (18:19). Jesus is handed over to Caiphas, and then taken to Pilate’s headquarters. (18:28) There he is once again interrogated, this time by the Roman representative. To Pilate, Jesus literally speaks truth to power:
“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world , to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. (18:37)
Each encounter reveals Jesus’ own authenticity and conviction, even when while bound. He has spoken boldly in the world, a world whose structures are of human construction. He speaks in the moment, when every word counts and each phrase is a revelation of God’s presence through Jesus’ words. When we walk with Jesus through these events before his crucifixion we are led to the crossroads of kairos and kosmos. In his life. In ours. In the world now.
When kosmos intersects with kairos, the old structures will begin to come apart as the new order emerges. For the Christian, the key events in Christ’s life are all intersections of kairos and kosmos, especially so in his birth, baptism, crucifixion and resurrection. To live into a kairos theology means to walk with Christ through his Passion and to learn to be open to where such intersections occur and when new orders are emerging, addressing them with faith, acting with trust in the stirrings and direction of the Holy Spirit. It means living into the hope of the Resurrection and remaining steadfast, even in hopelessness. It means learning to read “the signs of the time” and measuring them against God’s vision wholeness, peace and justice for humanity…God’s kosmos and kairos.
“My kingdom is not from this world.”
(The Rev. Katherine Cunningham is the Assisting Ecumenical Pastor for Discipleship at Trinity Church of Asbury Park, NJ and a member of the Kairos USA board of directors.)