(This was inspired by a comment from Pulpit Fiction, a weekly lectionary podcast well worth checking out if you’re a bit of a Bible geek.)
Jesus stands before Pilate, a prisoner facing a show trial. The whole sorry situation revolves around power – who’s in charge, who’s popular, who’s the political alpha dog.
Our gut instinct is to say Jesus, and that’s the right answer, but here he stands, a captive in someone else’s palace, facing the official representative of the world’s great superpower. Priests have brought him here and Caesar’s lackey stands judgement over him and the crowds have abandoned him. As kingdoms go, things aren’t looking good.
We talk a lot about context – about the Jerusalem priesthood, about the history of Pilate, about radical movements in first century Palestine. But call me radical, but it doesn’t matter that we’re talking here about Jewish leaders and Roman leaders. Really this is about the empires people establish – political, martial, ecclesiastical – and how they ultimately end up crashing into the kingdom of God.
Jesus is well aware of this. He knows where his journey’s been heading and it’s not to a jewel-encrusted throne. “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
That’s the thing. His servants were willing to fight, or at least Peter was when he took off the ear of Malchus. Maybe that’s why Peter ends up denying him; after watching Jesus heal the high priest’s servant, maybe all the expectations of what was about to happen came crashing down. Heal the sick, sure, but don’t heal your enemies because they’ll… Well, they’ll come back and crucify you.
Of course, they’ll come back and crucify you anyway. In 66AD, Jerusalem rose up against Rome and it was horrific, slaughter and cannibalism and a burning Temple. Jesus had already prophesied this, but it fell on deaf ears. Of course it did – we don’t like it when people talk of different kingdoms, we resent the idea that any empire can be better than our own. Anyone who says otherwise is a traitor, a hater, who probably wants to burn the flag mock the queen.
“My kingdom is not of this world.” That’s true, but in beautiful times and spaces it intrudes into our brokenness and corruption, daisies growing in pavement cracks. It invades every time we take Jesus seriously, besieges empires when we welcome immigrants rather than talk of building walls and locking them in camps, when we help the poor rather than spit in their faces. That’s how Christ’s servants fight, not to prevent the crucifixion but to live out the resurrection, to acknowledge that Jesus is now on the throne and to live in that reality, not in the shadows of transitory empires.
But it’s difficult to stay loyal to a kingdom that often seems hidden. Sometime that loyalty is hard-won, sometimes worship has to be an act of defiance, sometimes getting up and singing praise to the Lord is actually a cry of lament and desperation in the face of death, of war, of bloodshed and terror and hatred. We sing, and even if the words feel like ashes in our mouths, even if the music sounds discordant with the world bleeding around us, we keep on singing, keep on praising, because in doing so we proclaim a better world and a greater kingdom, we raise up our king and praise his name, and even though the world in which we live is upside-down and back-to-front, even though the Kingdom of God is now-and-not-yet, the Lamb is still seated on the throne; we take our sin and our fear and our futures and lay them before the throne, before the cross and leave them there in the hands of our Saviour and our King.