This Monday, May 31, 2010 is Memorial Day here in the United States of America. Regardless of our antipathy to any particular conflict or even to war in general, on this national day of remembrance we honor the sacrifices of the fallen, the injured, and the families of them all. On Monday, patriotic music will fill the air. Some songs will highlight our country’s natural beauty, others the virtues of its diverse and often dissonant people. Our national anthem recounts the heroics and horrors of battle, including the observation that “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” The words stimulate a question in another realm. Just what, I wonder, “gives proof” to this world that God’s kingdom is present?
In John 18, Jesus and Pilate discuss that very question, as they both laid claim to representing God’s kingdom on earth. Like Jesus, Caesar claims divine sonship, and as proof he offers absolute imperial power. But despite such evidence, “666,” the three-digit serial number of Caesar’s kingdom screams human, human, human — and it always will. And what proof does Jesus offer for his claim? A face wet with spit, a back ripped and bleeding? Nails in his hands? A sword in his side? This is clearly Pilate’s day: Kaisaros Kyrios — “Caesar is Lord.” But this is not the end of the story, though the weekend will see that End begin, when God vindicates Jesus’ claim by raising him from the dead. Further vindication will come when Rome crumbles before the invading Germanic hordes. And God’s vindication will become universally visible at history’s close, when all earthly governments tumble and every human flag comes down.
What proof do we see of God’s kingdom today, in this era of Until and Not Yet, during this time of a special suffering that precedes glory? We see it now — just as when Jesus faced Pilate — in apparent weakness that meekly endures a temporary defeat. It is evident in the persistence of all who seek justice, in the hopefulness of those who serve the forsaken, in the joy of those who sacrifice for the weak. God’s kingdom is a flame that ignites persistence and hope and joy. It is a torch that often flickers but refuses to be extinguished, inspiring love and courage to hold fast despite the powers that now control this fallen world. “Thy kingdom come,” we pray, “as in heaven, so on earth.” In what ways do our own lives and lifestyles give proof of that kingdom’s presence?