Sermon Series: What Happened on the Cross?
“The Ruler of Kings”
Let me make my annual pitch. Do not go from Palm Sunday directly to Easter. A lot happens in between… more than we can work into one service today. We have Thursday and Friday services here, but if you can not make it here, there are other churches near wherever you will be. There is no Easter without Good Friday. No Sunday without Friday.
We have been looking this Lent at various New Testament understandings of the significance of the cross. It is a symbol of salvation. It is a symbol of intimacy with God. It is a symbol of true wisdom and enlightenment. It is a symbol of love.
And, this morning, we want to take a few minutes to talk about the New Testament understanding of the cross as a symbol of power. But it is a strange power, because the cross is also a symbol of powerlessness. The cross is at the same time a symbol of power and powerlessness.
There is a phrase from the Book of Revelation in its discussion of cross and crucifixion that I’d like us to focus on this morning. Bishop John of Patmos who wrote the Book of Revelation has a vision and in the vision he sees the crucified Christ on a throne… and he calls Christ “the ruler of the kings of the earth… to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” “The ruler of the kings of earth.”
It is a reminder of the words Handel put to music that we will sing to end our Easter service next Sunday—“King of Kings and Lord of Lords… and he shall reign forever and ever.”
The one who dies on the cross is the ruler of the kings of the earth. The cross is a symbol of power and powerlessness.
What does this mean?
It means that the cross judges power.
There are few of us who handle power well. Many days I am glad I don’t have more power than I already have. How many kings and queens throughout history have not, in some way or another, abused their power?
How many of the Catholic Church’s 265 popes would you call truly great popes… even good popes? This week I read the current pope’s letter to the people of Ireland. Did you know the Church’s current problems are the result of secularism? The way vulnerable deaf children were treated is the result of secularism? Did you know that? It is the fault of all those secular people out there. How many truly good popes have there been?
How many Methodist bishops have been truly great bishops, truly good bishops? Even the ones some of us have admired—you should not read their biographies too closely.
How many of our nation’s 43 presidents have been truly great presidents?
How many good CEOs have there been? How many good senior pastors?
Most of us do not handle power well.
Power is isolating. The more power we have the more isolated we will be tempted to become.
The great story of the symbol of the isolation of power is usually attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette, but was really said by the wife of Louis XIV one hundred years earlier. She was told the peasants had no bread, and she replied, “Well, then, let them eat brioche.” Let them eat cake. So out of touch was she with the reality of ordinary people’s lives in her kingdom. This story fueled the French revolution.
The cross judges power. Power corrupts us unless we remain in community with the powerless, which is almost impossible to do. The only ones truly worthy of power are those who know powerlessness. The only one truly worthy of power and honor is the one who dies on the cross powerless and humiliated.
Any of us who have any degree of power, and most of us here have more power than the overwhelming majority of the world’s people, need to come and stare at the cross regularly to remind ourselves that our power is only as valid as our capacity to live with the same kind of awareness of powerlessness and community with the powerless as the One who died on this cross.
The cross judges power. The one who dies on the cross is the ruler of the kings and queens of the earth.
Jane and I just got back from spending a day and a half with our grandchild. We hadn’t seen him for way too long. So we just wrote some time with him into our calendars a couple of weeks ago. It was not a convenient time, just before Holy Week. Turns out I had an important meeting that for some reason wasn’t in my calendar but we went to see Ian anyway because something told us it was the most important thing in our lives to do.
So do you know where I spent most of this past Friday evening and Saturday? On the floor. Crawling on the floor. Lying on the floor. Because if you have a 22 month old grandson, he will spend most of his time on the floor, and if you want to be with him, that is where you’ll need to be as well.
The cross is a symbol of this … that the only way to exercise true power is to spend your time crawling on the floor. If you have any power in your life the most difficult thing you will do is to exercise it well, and you will exercise it well only if you figure out how to spend time crawling on the floor.
On Palm Sunday Jesus entered the capitol city of Jerusalem like a king about to be inaugurated. Monday he entered the Temple and overturned the tables like somebody who was in charge. Thursday he had a last supper with his friends and wept in the garden of Gethsemane. Friday he died powerless and humiliated on the cross. Sunday he became the king of kings, lord of lords. Ruler of the Kings of this earth.
I was in New York City, Manhattan, for a couple of days a couple of weeks ago with another Washingtonian. After spending some time walking the streets and eating at a large New York City steakhouse the hotel clerk had recommended, I said to the other Washingtonian I was with, “You know, I think people in Washington are smarter and better looking than people in New York.” I said, “I think power attracts smarter and better looking people than money does.”
Many of us drawn to Washington want to be close to power. We like power here. We aren’t afraid of power, but we ought to be. Power is dangerous. Power will tempt us to be complicit in the most god-awful things and blame secularism or communism or the Tea Party instead of ourselves and our own institutions.
One of the things I’ve started doing is to get to know the people who sleep on our front steps. I’ve said I want to use what power I have here to end homelessness in Washington, DC by 2014. I am motivated in part by the people sleeping on our front steps to do this, so I decided I need to know them better. This does not come naturally to me. It is not easy. I want to show them the stains and trash they leave behind and to explain to them why this is harmful. But I can’t do that. I can only sit and listen.
Who do you have to become powerless with in order to have power?
Only the one who is powerless on the cross can be the ruler of the kings of earth.