Christ the King – November 22, 2015
At the Edge of the Heron’s Wing
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
The callousness of Pontus Pilate was legendary. The Romans actually recalled Pilate, after ten years as a Roman governor, because of his cruel and oppressive ways. Today we are in Pilate’s courtroom, most likely in a courtyard that is part of a larger compound that includes the governor’s home and military barracks. In Pilate’s court there are no lawyers, no court reporter, no clerk or baliff. The main characters are Pilate and Jesus and the file on the case against Jesus is very thin… in fact, to this point, it is all here-say. Pilate doesn’t want to be in this position but he is. Jesus has been turned over to him from the chambers of the high priest Caiphas. Pilot now sits as judge and jury. He asks a simple and direct question to determine guilt: “Are you king of the Jews?”
Jesus responds to the question with his own question: “Do you ask this on your own or did others tell you about me?” …referring to religious leaders who had had quite enough of Jesus. Pilot squirms. “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” What is Jesus’ crime that could very likely result in a sentence of death?
Jesus doesn’t answer the question. Instead he tells Pilate about his origins… he is from another place: “My kingdom is not of this world… If my kingdom were of this world my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews but as it is – my kingdom is not here.” Pilate must have been extremely frustrated and confused.
Pilate is not interested in the kingdom of which Jesus is speaking. He wants to dispense with his duties quickly. He asks, “So you are a king?”
Again… Jesus doesn’t give a straight forward answer. “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.” One can almost see Pilate scratching his head. What should he do? What is the crime for which this man was arrested… and taken before the high priest Annas and then to Caiphas… and now finally brought before Pilate… because religious officials are not allowed to put people to death. Clearly there is a thirst for blood.
Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” Jesus does not answer directly. His life has been a living witness of confronting the corrupt and oppressive powers of the empire. Jesus’ case is solid. He has lived the “truth” and challenged the forces of death and destruction… and he will continues his witness to the bloody end…
Pilate doesn’t yet realize that the meaning of the “truth” to which Jesus is witnessing. The full answer is yet to unfold… It will soon. In any case, Pilate goes outside to pronounce his verdict: “I find no case against him.” But apparently Pilate is over ruled. The crowd wants action. Because it is the Passover, a holy time, Pilate offers to release a prisoner as is the custom. The crowd refuses Pilate’s offer to free Jesus, they cry out to have Barabbas released instead… and so it begins, the flogging, the crown of thorns… and a long painful walk towards death.
Jesus’ living testimony flips earthly concepts of kingship on their heads. This uppity carpenter from Nazareth has power, and he is becoming a threat, not because he has gathered legions of soldiers… but because he has legions of followers who are hungry for the truth… hungry for words of life that call forth the worth and dignity of every human being … each being beloved of God… each worthy to live in a domain in which power is not wielded by money or the sword… but rather a domain in which eternity echoes through scriptures of old:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me (as kings are indeed anointed) to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4: 18-19)
The reign of God in which Jesus is supreme is both now and yet to come. The reign began in the beginning and will continue to the very end… Jesus is the alpha and the omega… the ruler of time that is here with us but in a way that is far too much for us to comprehend. To begin comprehending the meaning of this holy reign we need to listen differently… we need to be still, we need to enter in, we need to pay attention and to live into the challenges laid before us by the prophets… challenges for us to think and live boldly with new eyes and open hearts… to step out of mindless routines… and to live more fully in the here and now on earth….that glimpses of heaven may perceived… with the promise that one day heaven will be fully realized on earth. Glimpses of the reign of God… are found in scriptures… in words of comfort, “come to me all ye that are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Glimpses are found in those challenging and mind twisting parables in which a father throws a party for his squandering son who has returned home broke and ashamed… or the employer who gives everyone the same pay whether they toiled a little or a lot…. or of the compassion of a Samaritan who provides care and compassion… because he knows what it is like to feel invisible and viewed as less than human.
In the Chronicles of Narnia C.S. Lewis describes this new land that is beyond description… in an allegory of heaven:
“The further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”
“Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden at all but a whole world, with its own rivers and words and sea and mountains. But they were not strange… she knew them all.”
“I see,” she said, “This Narnia is more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below… I see… world within world, Narnia within Narnia…”
“Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in… and in, each circle is larger than the last.”
What we don’t hear in Lewis’ allegory of heaven are descriptions of buildings that reach to the sky, or streets paved with gold… the new land is always getting larger and grander… a realm that is both familiar and beyond understanding – a realm that breaks through the here and now… a land where our souls feel at home… and by the grace of God… a land that we can glimpse of now and then… in the here and now… a glimpse of God’s glory. Can we sense it…. Can we see it? Can we taste it in the bread and wine?
Pilate really missed out. He was half heartedly focused on the problem of the wrongly accused criminal who was before him. He was not convinced of Jesus’ guilt… but then again, he couldn’t appreciate what was really going on in his midst. Pilate was looking for the kind of king that he understood, and he didn’t recognize that kingship in Jesus. He had before him not just a glimpse… but the real thing – the way, the truth, the life – the one who was going to go all of the way and not turn back. The only glimpse that Pilate knew was a true pang of his own truth and disappointment when the crowd insisted that Barabbas be released and Jesus be put to death. It was but a brief glimpse. Pilate did not really see, and he did not understand. He was ruled by earthly systems that were, at the least, shallow, warped and without compassion… and at the worst, totally corrupt…
There was a beggar in Calcutta lying on a mat in a home for the dying. A nun was caring for him, kneeling beside him, wiping the sweat and grime from his forehead, giving him some soothing relief from the sweltering heat. She was an Albanian peasant who had come to India fifty years earlier and who had never left. She has been described as “a Christ whose eyes shone like the wings of a heron flying round the sun, a silence whose light soars through the darkness, like the love songs of the gypsies in Grenada.” Using every ounce of strength the beggar’s eyes somehow summoned the nun to draw nearer. She obeys.
It takes the beggar a long time to whisper something in her ears. With great difficulty he says, “I have lived… like an animal… Now I will die… like an angel.” Those were the beggar’s final words to Mother Teresa.
How do we begin to understand the reign of Christ and his kingdom? Pilate missed it all together… Where do we begin? We begin by releasing… if just a tiny bit into God’s greater truth that dwells somewhere between prose and poetry, between life and death and beyond, between comfort and great challenge. Somewhere between the baptismal font and the altar table we come closer to understanding the meaning of Christ’s kingship… a lord who loves us as we are, who binds up our wounds and calls forth in us ever greater freedom in our life in Christ. We find this Lord in the faces of strangers, in the poor and the unwanted. We find the Holy One in the silence of prayer and in kind words and caring that are bestowed up us.
We who belong to the truth listen to our Lord’s voice – a voice that is both challenging and sublime. Robert Bly’s words describe the kingdom this way:
“Far out at the edge of the heron’s wing where the air is disturbed by the last feather, there is the kingdom.”
Christ’s presence is all around… can we feel it? Can we share the love?
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come…
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14