Every time the Duchess of Cambridge leaves her home for a formal event the internet explodes the next day with hundreds of images of the crown she wore complete with the history of previous dates and the events at which she wore it. Granted, the internet also blows up with images of the gowns and shoes she wore, but the crown gets particular attention, likely because it is the most expensive part of her ensemble and the most important symbol of the monarchy of which she is part.
Whether we call a monarch king, queen, emperor, empress, or grand poobah, from of old a monarch holds absolute power over a land and its people. Historically, that power is not an inherent right of the king, but was believed to be derived from the power of God, whatever form that God takes. The power flows from the divine being, to the king, and then from the king is spread out throughout the lands and the peoples like water running through the irrigation canals of a field from a single pipe. The sketch on the screen above might give you a better idea of how the divine right of kings operated. The crown itself signifies the power and glory not only of the ruler, but also of the God whose might sustains the ruler. We see this in Scripture, where Christ wears a crown as a sign of the authority and power invested Him as King of Kings by God the Father (Revelation 14:14-15) not merely to rule but to bring on the End of Days and the judgment of humanity.
The Prayer of the Day, the one at the end of the opening of worship before we begin our reading of the day’s appointed Scripture texts, begins with Revelation’s crown. “Almighty and everlasting God,” we prayed, “You have crowned Your Son as a King and, by Him, will renew Your whole creation.” We do no more here than repeat yet another passage from the book of Revelation, the one read this morning. Here John, the writer of Revelation as well as the Gospel of John, greets his readers in the name of God the Father as well as that of Jesus Christ, Who is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”
Kings are still extant on earth, and, in fact, they draw an enormous amount of attention from the press because royalty remains popular even with the citizens of republics like our own, other forms of representative government and, surprisingly, of what are essentially dictatorships like China and Russia. But even the monarchies that remain in various parts of the world are not like what they used to be. Most monarchs have been forced to cede some or most of their power to elected officials in parliaments or assemblies. The role of the modern-day king or queen or high poobah is largely ceremonial and symbolic. Even so, that role is important, for it is a reminder of the power of the state, a promoter of civic virtues, a guarantor of the unity of the people, and a sign of divine favor. Consequently, a crown will always capture our attention, as will the head the crown graces. It radiates power and glory, and we may bask a bit in its glow even though such a thing will never top our own heads.
At least, we’ll never wear a crown like that worn by the Duchess of Cambridge or her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II. But, Scripturally, that word crown may also indicate the reward one who has kept the faith to the end despite persecution and trial (1 Peter 5:4; James 1:12; Revelation 2:10 receives, or the joy that one experiences when we receive the rewards of faith (2 Timothy 4:8). That crown signifies not only the faith of the believer, but most notably the faith of the King of Kings, for it is His faithfulness to His people which wins for them salvation. His “salvation will be forever,” says John, and His “righteousness will never be dismayed.” So, though we are in no way kingly or queenly material, the crown of righteousness may be ours one day, by virtue of the King of Kings who supports us, sustains our faith, and bolsters our feeble righteousness with His own never-failing righteousness.
This is the Good News of Jesus Christ, the news we need to hear again and again, and most especially so when the news from the world around us is bad. And that is true far too frequently for comfort’s sake. In the midst of war and rumors of war, pandemic, failing economies, broken families, rapacious governments, teens dead in their bedrooms of fentanyl overdoses, rising violent crime, and all the other attendant sorrows of humanity, all of which threaten to drown us in our own tears, in the midst of all this the Lord returns like a crashing wave lifting us and taking us safely to shore. In last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus came upon four of His disciples who were awestruck by the magnificence of the Temple and other public buildings in Jerusalem. He quite diminished their joy in their surroundings when He sat them down and told them that none of the stones of the Temple or the other magnificent structures would be left standing in the future. He was right, for by the end of 70 ad, Jerusalem, its walls, its building, its temple, had been destroyed by the Romans. The disciples, looking around at the magnificence of the buildings around them, were understandably dismayed. We hear more of this conversation In this morning’s Gospel reading, as Jesus, Peter, John, James, and Andrew sit a ways across from the Temple Mount.
The conversation becomes even darker than it was earlier. Not only will Jerusalem be razed nearly to the ground, but “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” The chaos on the earthly grounds of heaven will be echoed in the heavens as the order of creation itself is shaken and all existence is threatened with destruction. We used to hear this kind of language, the language of total destruction, in discussions of nuclear war between the nations. Now such apocalyptic language is used to describe what some people think is likely the outcome of climate change. But here we are hearing the author of creation, through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, describe the kind of vast destruction that far outstrips even the biblical flood of Noah’s day or anything we might contemplate in our own day. God, here, is rather like an angry father looking at his miscreant offspring telling them, “I brought you into the world, I can take you out of it!” But, in truth, our God is not that kind of father, and so, in His next words, Jesus promises His return within a generation’s time after the tribulation “in clouds with great power and glory.” Returning, He will gather those He will save from all the ends of the earth and the ends of heaven.
He promises us, then, that we who endure in faith will have safe haven from the evils of the world and the coming End of Days. The End of Days may be a true end for some, but for those who believe and who hold on to their belief in the saving power of God’s through Jesus Christ, it will be a time of deliverance and joy. And this is so, because the crown of the King of Kings is not wrought in gold and covered in precious gems. The crown of our King of Kings is made of thorns, savage thorns, the kind that cut and stab and make you bleed small rivers of blood. That is the crown that the Son of God, Son of Man wore on the way to the cross on which He yielded up His life that we may keep ours for eternity.
Because Christ wore that crown of thorns willingly, and for love of His Father and His Father’s creation, we do not need to cower under our beds or dissolve anxiety in booze or pills or an excess of Peloton time. But we do need, as Jesus told us last week and tells us again this week, to be on guard, to stay awake. We do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s return. It could be tomorrow, 20 months from now, or 10,000 years. We do not know, but we do know how to stay faithful, to not give up on Him who saves us or His Father’s plan for our salvation. With the help of God’s enduring Word we too can endure, and keep an eye out not for signs of Christ’s return, but for pointers where we might ourselves submit or resubmit to Jesus’ gentle reign and help others to do so, also.
We’ve spent the summer and the fall talking about what it takes to be able to practice daily what we preach as those who follow in the way that Jesus has laid out for us. It is this, to be on guard, and to stay awake, that we might not find ourselves on any given day saying one thing but doing the opposite. It does little good for us to preach the grace of God, and His love and charity, if those attributes cannot be found in the use to which we put our hands, our feet, our hearts, and our minds. Jesus Christ gave us His holy and perfect life, that we may, in turn, give Him our hearts and minds and spirits and all that flow from them.