Jesus Christ : the Liminal Man

When reading Bishop Spong’s book, something struck me about an idea he had put forward of the river Jordan.

That Jordan River was also thought to offer a door way into the promised land where God was believed to reign as king.

The Jordan, then is a liminal place. A Place on the boundaries. Water has always been considered a barrier between life and whatever comes next, the celts used to leave offerings, and the occasional sacrifice to such placed. Mountains were also liminal places, close to the crossing between man and God. Moses found God on the mountain, God’s home was on the mountain, God could have been said to be a God of the mountain. When Jesus of Nazareth stepped into the liminal place that had been parted three times,( once for Joshua (Josh 2:11-13), once for Elijah (2 Kings 2:8), and once for Elisha (2 Kings 2:14)), the water did not part. He stepped into the water and was baptised, and the spirit of God in him called out to the spirit of God on the mountain, the spirit of God beyond the world. The people that stood on the shores heard the booming voice, or saw the dove.

Jesus stepped out of the liminal place, and brought God to us. No longer do we need to go to him, no longer is it only in the liminal places does God talk to us, but where we are, in our very own lives. God meets us where we are, stands with us where we might be.

This is not the only liminal line that was crossed by Christ. Death, the ultimate in doorways to the beyond has long been the one that has dominated the hearts and minds of humans, was suffered in the most agonising way that humans of the first century was aware of. He suffered and died, crossing that border to the unknown. When he returned, he showed that even that liminal border was not enough to keep the spirit of God from us. Even from the far side of death, God was able to reach over and stand along side us, both in there here and now, and in the future.

This notion of Christ as being the one who crosses that liminal border has an impact also in our view of Christ. Christians ask for things “In the name of Christ”, and way pray “through Jesus Christ”. If Christ is the liminal border, no longer fixed in one place, but rather part of the fabric itself, one that can be accessed anywhere, at any time, then the shape and style of the border itself has changed. It has a personality, it is not simply a place. It is a border that can interact with us. It is a border that can come to us, and help us, guide us over it, to awaken the divine that lies within each of us.

Precisely what the implications of this are, I’m not sure. Whether Jesus simply tore asunder the curtain, to free us from the limitations of the liminal places, or whether he showed us the way to cross the boundary, something that had always been open to us, but beyond our understand I have yet to work out. This idea is definitely in need of some expansion, and further theological thought.




John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die HaperSanFransisco: New York, 1998, p 111