Today we are asked to consider our allegiance. Every Sunday Christians in a sense say a collective "Pledge of Allegiance." On this Sunday, Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday, our church calendar compels us to look at the strangeness, the vulnerability, in some ways embarrassing contrast between our leader and the leaders of worldly empires. Like a flashing billboard, our Gospel lesson declares Jesus to be no ordinary ruler, king or politician.
A week before we enter Advent, a season in which Christians consider the triumphal coming of Christ at the great end of all and a month before Christmas when we consider Jesus' birth, we are reminded about the strange, disturbing relationship Jesus has to imperial power.
The author of today's gospel lesson shines a light on a rather disturbing place, the trial of Jesus. The trial is presided over by Pilate, a Roman governor. Pilate has come to Jerusalem to maintain order during Passover --- a Jewish celebration of God's subversion of Imperial Power and of God's leading a group of slaves out of bondage in Egypt right under the nose of Pharaoh. Pilate came there to make clear who was boss, to smack down any thing that smelled of rebellion, anything that threatened the power of Rome.
Scholars tell us that Jesus was likely one of many, many others who were brought before the authorities and accused of rebellion. The author of the gospel of John focuses our attention on the tremendous contrast between the supposedly mighty Pontius Pilate with his weapons and armies and the truly mighty Jesus standing alone in shackles. As we read this text, we are in on a secret. We know that Jesus is the Savior, we know that Jesus is the true King, ruler, governor and that Pilate is a fraud. Throughout this scene, I find myself wanting Jesus to breakout of his chains and to put Pilate in his place --- to violently stand up for himself, I want the disciples to come flying in like Batman or Superman, or Terminator, or like a special forces unit of the military --- taking Pilate hostage and making Jesus King. This would be the Kingdom of God by coup d'etat. Perhaps I have been too saturated by violent video games and movies to appreciate the powerful witness of Jesus. Jesus is no typical action hero --- Jesus is our nonviolent savior.
Today's gospel reveals that Jesus is no ordinary ruler, king or politician --- Jesus instead of confronting violence with violence --- Jesus says "'My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from 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 from here.' The Kingdom, the reign, the realm that Jesus proclaims is not dependent on armies, weapons, despots and shackles. Jesus' followers are not taking up arms (although they certainly , thought about it and Peter tried to fight back but Jesus insisted that he stop). No, Jesus has taught his disciples nonviolence, and he stands before Pilate --- with nothing but words --- he comes to testify to the truth.
One stares restlessly at this lesson, we read and wonder what might this passage say to us, how might this text in form us about our own relationship to imperial power or to violence? How are we called upon to testify to the truth? How are we to follow Jesus our King, how are we to proclaim our allegiance to the reign of God, to the kingdom that is not of this world?
A few months ago, I attended an interfaith religious gathering in Washington, DC, a demonstration calling for an end to the war in Iraq. I agonized over whether to risk arrest. Though I chose to stand witness as others were carried away in shackles including a woman in her 70's who I knew had a sick relative at home --- I left that religious gathering against the war more appreciative of the alternative realm, reign that we Christians seek, that we pledge our allegiance to ---
As Father John Dear, a Jesuit priest and peace activist writes,I pledge allegiance to God's reign of perfect peace, nonviolent love and equal justice for everyone, including the children of Iraq.
Or as two Mennonites June Alliman Yoder and J. Nelson Kraybill pledge:
I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ,
And to God's kingdom for which he died—
One Spirit-led people the world over, indivisible,
With love and justice for all.
As the Episcopal Diocese of California stands, with our courageous Bishop and others of faith in a few weeks in front the Federal Building, may we proclaim, even as we may be led away in shackles --- our allegiance to the nonviolent reign of Christ.