The contrast is so dramatic, what with Vladimir Putin’s quest for imperial glory while we follow Christ’s dogged footsteps to the cross through Lent, tracking his suffering glory.
Putin basks in vigorous standing ovations in the Kremlin and demonstrations of support at Red Square. Across Russia—or shall I say, the Soviet Union—frequent calls of ‘Glory to Putin’ are heard. His political popularity is cresting and his mythology of grandeur and destiny swell beyond the formidably outsized ego of a KGB colonel calling all the shots. This guy demagogues with the best of them, posing as shining knight on white charger.
Worse still, he couches it in traditional values, even in the faith of his Orthodox church, claiming divine warrant to annex territories and sovereign nations as truly his. What “traditional values” means beyond galloping shirtless on a horse for adoring media and exploiting the Russian church as a patsy—like the czar and Soviets did before him—beats me. His traditional values sounds like destined to rule others rather than to serve.
As for imperial glory, all that glitters, drawing raves from the hordes surely isn’t golden. Do you remember the scene in the film Gandhi where British and Indian cohorts come to break up a rally led by Mohandas? The British arrive with trucks, heavy armaments, and soldiers. The Gandhi-led Indian resisters are empty-handed older men and women.
They are ordered to disperse. They are told that, should they not disperse, they shall be forcibly moved. Gandhi tells his people to stand firm but not respond with violence to the threats of violence. The beatings begin. As the soldiers take one group of men, another steps forward to take their place. All day, even into the night, the beatings continue. The resistors stand, absorb the blows, but do not strike back. A reporter on the scene radios back home: “This day the British Empire has lost any claim to moral justification.”
Can you see how the cross of Christ became necessary? Without striking back, Jesus similarly took on the Roman Empire. Yes, that took more centuries to crumble. But the glory of the cross stands in stark contrast to the glory of this world’s aspiring empires. The cross, seemingly impotent, has power to dismantle the self-aggrandizement of conquest with the values of a kingdom Jesus proclaimed, values surely not of this world.
Madeleine L’Engle (yes, of children’s book fame) extolled the power and glory of the cross: “What one of us can understand a love so great that we would willingly limit our unlimitedness, put the flesh of mortality over our immortality, accept the pain and grief of humanity, be killed by it, and die a total failure (in human terms) on a common cross between two thieves?” This is not a human strategy or tactic. It is glory not of this world.
We all want to respond to the Putins of the world. Maybe we best remain in Jesus’ footsteps, pointed to Jerusalem and Golgotha, realizing that the power of God, welling up in God’s righteous destiny, resides in the glory of the cross. Allied with God’s power, embracing a higher glory, we can, in the words of the poster, “Keep calm and carry on.”