Henry V and the Kingdom of God

We need to understand the Biblical picture of the reign of God or, as Christians, we will enact poor parodies of that reign as we stumble our way toward Christian faithfulness.

I confess, all of the anti-Empire work that’s floating around New Testament scholarship makes me more than a little nervous, as does N. T. Wright’s bold proclamation that we need to reclaim the word “theocracy.”

Yes, to claim that Jesus is the king of king and lord of lords means, also, that Caesar does not have this role, whatever his claims. And Caesar made such a claim even over Jesus, with Rome’s parodic crucifixion: “Ok, ‘king,’ hang on this cross and discover who is the king of all kings upon the earth!”

But let us not forget that the expulsion of Rome is exactly what Jesus never tried to enact, never promised to deliver.

Jesus did come and cast out a legion. But the great irony of the story is that the “Legion” was not Roman but demonic; and it was not expelled from Jerusalem or Judea or Galilee, but from a Gentile man in Gentile territory.

The undoing of the arms of Caesar was not the mission of Jesus.

This week Laura and I took in an outstanding rendition of Henry V at London’s Shakespear’s Globe Theater.

Jamie Parker played the part of Henry to perfection, leaving me wanting to stand and cheer after the St. Crispin’s Day Speech.

Overall, the play struck me as delivering rather a muted celebration of war. But more than that, the play struck me as having a rather lot of talk about God.

Henry demands that the great victory should be celebrated and recounted so as to give glory to God. God’s glory. God’s grace. God’s victory.

One suspects that the French didn’t quite see it this way.

And thus the problem of misidentifying the reign of God, and too closely associating with “not the reign of x king in particular.” There is a practical, nearly unavoidable problem in setting Jesus up over against other, particular earthly kings.

The problem, in short, is that we are too ready to identify ourselves and our kings and our kingdoms with the reign of God, and the other guy over there with the reign Jesus opposes.

Moreover, when we identify worldly kingdoms as the opposition, we too readily employ the means of earthly conquest in our efforts to unseat them.

Any truth worth its salt will be dangerous.

I do not commend dispensing with the idea of the kingdom of God.

But we must understand it well, and cultivate our participation in that reign with caution.

When our enactments look more like blanketing the enemy with paratroopers than an apparent nothing producing incalculable return, we’ve got a problem.

When our enactments look more like driving the nails than receiving the blows, we’ve got a problem.

When we find ourselves asking and pining and pleading, “Lord, is it now that you are going to restore the Kingdom to us?” We should immediately fear that the restoration is already taking place through some great act of self-giving love.

An that we are missing it.

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