Love Reigns

The Passion According to Saint John. Act II, Scene 2: Jesus and Pilate.

John’s Passion story is a complex and detailed drama that carries us along to multiple places in the company of multiple characters. The beginning of the Passion – Act I – centers on the interactions between Jesus and the leadership of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is arrested by temple police, beaten and bound, and brought before one religious leader after another. Act II, though, is the act of Pontius Pilate, prefect of Rome. Pilate governs each little scene in this act – every moment is focused on his thoughts, his objections, his questions. It is Pilate who speaks, Pilate who acts, Pilate who draws lines between other characters. In the first scene, he is outside, talking to the crowds and religious leaders, in the second, back inside to talk to Jesus, then back outside, and back and forth and back and forth until the moment he finally hands Jesus over to Act 3, the Act of Golgotha.

But today we are back at Act 2, Scene 2. Inside the Praetorium. Jesus stands stage right, Pilate stage left. A conversation. Not much action, here; the drama is in the dialogue. It is the question and answer that inches us along in the plot. Pilate – are you the King of the Jews? Jesus – why are you asking me this? Pilate – I don’t know; your people say that you’re claiming to be King. Jesus – I am. But not the kind of king you’re thinking of. Pilate – so you are a king? Jesus – you tell me.* I came into the world, to witness to the truth.

It’s a wordy, weighty interchange. Jesus and Pilate talk to each other and past each other, bending the conversation in the direction they desire, working their sentences to accomplish their own purposes. It’s a classic confrontation scene, written in rapid-fire style, like the Gospel written by Aaron Sorkin. Are you who I think you are? Well who says that I am? I’m not sure, but I’m asking. Well, I might be, but not in the way you imagine. This could be any host of dramatic confrontations between characters who are trying to feel each other out while also saying only the things that they want to: Thomas More and Henry VIII, Darcy and Elizabeth, Lord Grantham and Tom Branson. It would be easy for us to get lost in the lines themselves, in the landscape of the language. And if this scene were all we had, we might imagine that this Act of the Passion were mostly about discourse, about dialogue, mostly about the words.

But to see only the words here is to miss one critically important part of this particular dramatic moment. And that is the scene’s backdrop. For all of this scene, indeed the entirety of the Passion, takes place against a vibrant, pulsing backdrop of fear. Everyone here is afraid. The disciples are so terrified they take off and keep on running. The religious leadership feels like they have been backed so far into a corner by this man Jesus that the only thing they can do to survive is to come out with their teeth bared and slashing. Even Pilate, Pilate the powerful, Pilate the prefect, Pilate the picture of Roman imperial might, is afraid that this man’s charisma plus his people’s frustration with the Roman occupation, combined with the sheer number of those people present in the capital city for the Passover, will add up to an uprising and downputting that can only end bloody. This scene is far from just banter or verbal jousting. Jesus is bound, Pilate is desperate, the crowds are angry and about to boil over. Fear is all around.

And it is hard to make sense when fear is all around. It is hard to speak clearly, to say what you mean, to even know what you mean, when you are living against a backdrop of blood-red fear. You ask questions and don’t listen to the answers; you give answers to questions that haven’t even been asked. There can be no wittiness, no thoughtfulness, no real attention to the words when your heart is racing and the hairs are standing up on the back of your neck. When we are afraid, we see only threats, only the darkness that is coming, and it is hard to be thoughtful and attentive when we are also preparing to run for our lives, or lash out, or smash anything that comes within arm’s reach that seems shadowy and menacing. Left unchecked, fear can warp us into creatures God never created us to be. It is hard to make sense when fear is all around.

This may be true for us. It is not true of Christ. Jesus does not react in fear. Jesus does not lash out in terror. Jesus is not panicked or desperate. Jesus is not blaming or pointing fingers. Jesus is not belittling or rolling his eyes. Jesus is not even putting up walls to defend himself from what is coming his way, because to do so would be to put a stumbling block between himself and his very purpose. To keep all of this at arm’s length – these people, these politics, these threats – would be to keep the world at arm’s length, and distance is antithetical to Jesus’ mission. He came to us, came into this world, to testify to the truth. And that truth is love.

Christ stands in the middle of that terrifying scene as love, speaks to Pilate as love, waits in silence as love, allows himself to be taken and pushed and beaten and questioned and bloodied and mocked and dragged to his death as love. Christ hangs upon the cross as love, a love that acts with mercy and kindness, a love that serves with a full heart, even those people who won’t love back. Whatever the chaos, whatever the betrayal, whatever the insults and pain and hatred, Christ testifies to the truth, then and now and always, and that truth is love.

We must not forget that when fear is all around us it is also all around Christ, who stands in the center as love. And that center will hold. And we must hold fast to it. For it is there that we belong – it is there, in the center of that perfect love that we ourselves can testify to the truth that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. Act 3 on the heights of Golgotha was not the curtain. “The powerful play goes on, and you and I may contribute a verse.”** More than that, the play goes on and Christ commands us to contribute a verse – to listen to his voice, to claim our allegiance and loyalty and place – to him, with him, and in him. Christ commands us to cry out in witness to the truth, to claim the perfect love that casts fear out into the darkness whence it comes.

This does not mean that fear and darkness are figments of our imagination. The darkness that is swirling over the globe right now is not an illusion; the light may have come into the world such that the darkness will not overcome it, but that doesn’t mean that the darkness is a mirage. “The fear is real,” our new presiding bishop Michael Curry wrote this week, and then he continues, “So we pray. We go to church. We remember who we are in Jesus. Our resurrection hope is larger than fear.”

Now hope that is seen is not hope. As frustrating as that might be sometimes, Paul was right about that one. But all that means is that you and I hope for what we do not see – for more than we could imagine, for God’s own kingdom, where terror holds no sway; where forgiveness is mightier than vengeance; where doors are opened, not shut; where love is seen as an opportunity and not a risk, where all things will be subject to the gracious, merciful, righteous reign of Christ. That is the world for which we hope – a world which we do not yet see, but a world for which we wait with patience.

And where we wait matters. We must wait in that holy center, where Christ reigns in love, where Christ stands, reaching out to draw us in, beloved one by beloved one, widening and widening the circle until hatred and violence and darkness and blood-red fear have no room on the stage. “You say that I am a king, Jesus says. 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.” The world needs us to listen to his voice now. The world needs that truth. Christ is King.To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” Christ is King. Love reigns. Love, not darkness nor hatred, nor fear nor terror, nor prejudice nor protectionism, nor the media nor the politicians, nor the night nor death. Only love. Christ is King. Love reigns.


Preached by Mtr. Erika Takacs

22 November 2015, Christ the King

Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia


*Language borrowed from Eugene Peterson

**Borrowed from the movie "Dead Poet's Society"

Posted on November 22, 2015 .