One of my favorite movies ever is Disney’s 1973 version of the Robin Hood story. If you’ve seen it, then you know that it offers two images of kingship: Richard Lionheart, the true king, and the cowardly usurper, Prince John.
Richard and John are both lions in the movie, but Richard is a muscular and majestic lion, with broad shoulders, golden fur and a thick brown mane.
Prince John, on the other hand, is a skinny little cat; his “regal” robe hangs off him like a nightgown on a hanger, and King Richard’s crown is far too big to stay on his head.
They’re both lions, but what does real lion-like courage look like? Or, put differently: how will we recognize the true king?
Because the world, as you well know, is full of Prince Johns. The world is full of people, from family living rooms to the great halls of power, who use the power the have to advance their own cowardly self-interest.
That’s certainly what it meant to be Caesar, when the book of Revelation was written. The empire took all it could take from its subjects and then it took a bit more, creating an underclass of people who lacked the necessary resources to even survive.
In exchange, it created a peace of sorts for those within the empire’s borders: the Pax Romana. For the beneficiaries of this peace. life was pretty good… if somewhat ominously filled with reminders of what would happen if you got out of line.
Many folks, then as now, could get along. Don’t make waves. Just stay out of trouble.
The Pax Romana was built on violence and terror, though, as is the peace of every empire. It doesn’t take much digging below the imperial press releases and parades and portrait ops to see it.
And so it goes, in every Babylon, which is why the old and strange book of Revelation has so much to say to contemporary Christians about faithful resistance.
If you step outside the House of Parliament in London, you see a large statue of King Richard the First, also known as Richard Lionheart. The horse is beginning to charge, as if running into battle, and the man seated on the horse is raising a sword high into the air. It’s a perfect picture of a worldly understanding of power.
But if you’ll allow me to cross streams of British stories, imagine with me a statue of a great and mighty king who is taking his sword and reholstering it in the stone from which it came.
Imagine the holidays that you’d have, if your national mythology featured putting the sword back into the stone… or beating it into a plowshare, if you want to get Biblical about it.
Maybe the city leaders in each town would carry wooden swords through the city, engaging in mock violence before putting the swords on a giant bonfire, to be drawn no more. Maybe flags bearing the image of a sheathed sword would be paraded through town while the people sang songs of peace.
Of course, that’s not how our national holidays work. We celebrate violence and the fruits of violence at every turn.
But we’re dual citizens, all of us Christians. We’re citizens of our nations, and citizens of the kingdom of God. And in the kingdom of God, we do have a yearly festival that celebrates the ultimate triumph of nonviolent resistance: Easter.
When Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus called him blessed. Then Jesus claimed that messiahship meant suffering and death, and Peter balked.
You remember what came next, right? “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.”
Later on, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had been praying with his soul overwhelmed with grief. Then Judas came to meet him, with a large armed crowd, and in a flash Jesus is under arrest.
Peter, who had a sword, drew it and wounded an attacker. Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away!” That’s not how Gospel battles are won. Instead, Jesus bore the cross willingly, meeting violence and injustice with love.
In Revelation, we’re shown what this looked like from the perspective of heaven.
It looked like this: the one like jasper who sits on the glorious throne holds a scroll, and no one in heaven or earth deserves to open it. But then, there comes one who is worthy: the Lion from the tribe of Judah, who has triumphed.
That’s how the scroll-opener is announced, anyway. One expects the Lion, the worthy one, to be at least as magnificent as King Richard in the Disney movie. We’re told to expect a lion, but what we’re shown is a lamb looking like it has been slain.
And the slain-looking lamb came up and took the scroll.
That’s our image of ultimate power, of ultimate glory: a butchered lamb. This is the true king. This is Christ. The one who told his chief disciple to put away his sword is the one worthy to open the scroll.
That’s the victory story of Easter, from heaven’s perspective. In a world of ravening wolves, our Savior is a Lamb. As followers of the Lamb, no more violence is required of us than that which Jesus himself modeled.
Can we be that brave? Can we learn to see lionheartedness as less about fighting back and more about taking up the cross?
May we, as we see this vision of a peaceable world restored, sing along with every creature in creation:
To the One on the throne and the lamb
Be blessing and honor and glory
And power forever and ever!
Julie Rudd is the Pastor of Wilmington Friends Meeting, a LGBTQ+ affirming church committed to the peaceful and just work of Christ in the world. Learn more at wilmingtonfriendsohio.org .