Splendor and honor and kingly power
are yours by right, O Lord our God. (A Song to the Lamb, Canticle 18, BCP, 93)
‘Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. 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.”’ (John 18:37)
And Pilate infamously responded, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)
Because Pilate knew that truth was whatever he decided. The law was whatever he imposed. Justice, in Pilate’s estimation, was whatever he exacted. And truth? The truth could go hang from a cross for all he cared.
The visions of Daniel and of John of Patmos describe the kingship of Christ as one of glory, of dominion. But it is by his own blood sacrifice, says John, that he has freed us from our sins; it is by his love that he has made us a kingdom, priests to serve our God.
Standing before Pilate, Jesus conjures a vision of a kingdom in which the truth is not decided by the preferences of the powerful, nor is justice exacted by violence, nor does the law of the nations have the last word over it. The kingdom that Jesus brings is one in which the love of God stands resolute before the principalities that would lord it over him, and undermines them by refusing to accept the finality of their penalty of death.
As another biblical poet wrote, “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” (Song of Songs 8:7) For love is stronger than death.
We have not yet achieved that kingdom among ourselves. We still live in a world where justice is decided by division and argument, where there is no consensus on the truth. Where a youth can take a gun he is too young legally to buy for himself and go out looking for the trouble. When he finds the trouble and becomes afraid for his safety, he successfully pleads self-defence for the deadly consequences of his decisions. Deadly for others, that is, not for him. And some see him, the survivor, as a martyr and a hero, and others see a travesty, an abortion of justice. We live where those who know the open secrets of our system see his young white skin as armour against the judgements of the world, while others still deny that such privilege exists.
We find ourselves in the place of Pilate asking, “What is the truth?”
Standing before Pilate, Jesus refuses to be drawn into his world of claim and counter-claim, power-brokerage and politicking. “I came to testify to the truth,” he asserts, even under the greatest imaginable pressure, for he knows what is to follow. He, Jesus, will not back down from the truth of God’s love, God’s justice which is mercy, which is the forgiveness of sins, which heals instead of harming, which is the reconciliation of the penitent and the hope of the sinner. He will not raise an army, of people or of angels, to save his own skin, because his reign, he tells Pilate, he tells us, does not depend upon unimaginative might or oppression, but rests in the enduring and creative power of God.
Daniel and John of Patmos each write their revelations, their visions of the kingdom come, from a position of persecution. Daniel has been captured by a foreign court and forced into exile and service to a foreign king who tried to eliminate the culture and language and religion of the Jews, who gave them new names. Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge”, was called by his captors Belteshazzar, after the Babylonian’s gods. John, in turn, has been exiled by the imperial persecution of the earliest Christians to the island of Patmos, where he awaits the judgement of God over the nations.
Daniel refused to submit to the attempted assimilation of his faith into the Babylonian ways. He held fast to the covenantal promises of God, and he looked with steadfast hope for the coming of God’s kingdom. In his vision, as in John’s he found his hope coming in the person of the Christ, the anointed and appointed embodiment of God’s mercy, justice, and reign. It was enough, even in those days of persecution, exile, and compromise with the powers that be to sustain both visionaries through long years of suffering. It did not eliminate the suffering, nor did it undo the injustices against them, but it allowed them to remain faithful, to remain true themselves to the faith that God had set within them, knowing that God is faithful and will prevail.
“Thy kingdom come,” we pray each and every time we gather, as Christians, as followers of Christ the King, whose reign comes with glory and dominion and with unending righteousness and justice, with truth.
It is so difficult, in days like these, to imagine a universe in which truth is known and shared an accepted and agreed upon: but Jesus tells Pilate that he is bringing it, and Daniel and John, in their times of greatest trial, see it coming on the clouds.
Of course, there is the risk for any of us that we will discover that we were wrong in some of the so-called truths we espoused along the way; but God is just and merciful, and if we hold fast to the promises of mercy and forbearance, of the creative ways of love to conquer the dull blade of oppression, if we will follow the example of our King, loving our neighbours instead of taking up arms against them, seeking and serving the image of God in all people, not standing upon our privilege but standing alongside the humble, rebellious, the condemned Christ, then we will find hope to sustain us, for no empire will stand for ever against the love, against the truth of God, against the coming justice of God’s kingdom.
And so, to him who sits upon the throne,
and to Christ the Lamb,
be worship and praise, dominion and splendor,
for ever and for evermore. Amen. (A Song to the Lamb, Canticle 18, BCP, 94)