Updated: Jan 30
One of my all-time favorite movies is Excalibur.
It is a movie about King Arthur, who (in my mind at least) symbolizes Christianity. More than Jesus and his twelve Apostles, Arthur and his knights of the Round Table symbolize the wholeness of Christianity, with the knights being all who are filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Kingdom of Camelot then represents the earthly realm; and, at the end of the movie when Arthur has died and set sail to the island of Avalon, that represents the return of Christ and the defeat of evil in the final battle.
God’s ultimate purpose of Christ, and thus the ultimate purpose of Christianity is to defeat evil. It is not to make certain people be seen as special … above all the rest … as such a purpose would only divide the land … not unify it with Heaven.
Avalon was a mythical island, which comes from Welch, meaning, “place of fruit trees.” Thus, Christ is shown returning to the Garden of Eden, where Heaven and Earth are one.
The Knights of the Round Table represent the Apostles of Christ, as well as all the Apostles who would lead others by the acts of chivalry, brought on by the Holy Spirit.
In the movie, one knight, Sir Percival, was knighted by King Arthur so he could stand in and defend Guinevere’s honor. He had been a squire prior to that.
Percival, in a sense, is like the Apostle Paul. He was anointed by Jesus Christ … after Jesus had died, when he then became King.
The name “Percival” is believed to be rooted in Old French words “Percer val,” meaning, “To pierce the valley.” That can be seen in the terms of “scraping the bottom of the barrel,” where the valley is an earthly low point; also keeping in mind how Ezekiel was shown dried bones filling a valley.
As such, “Percival” personifies how the weak shall become strong, through Christ. The squires shall become knights is this same principle.
Sir Percival, like all the Knights of the Round Table, was sent out to seek the Grail, after King Arthur fell into despair and Camelot fell into ruin.
In the reading today from 1 Samuel, we read how “the elders of the city [Bethlehem] came to meet [Samuel] trembling.” They asked Samuel a question that was rooted in their fear, “Do you come peaceably?”
Israel had fallen upon hard times, due to the despair Saul had fallen into … because “the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king.”
Many of the Apostles of Christ … just as did the Knights of Arthur … found their deaths in a quest for the Holy Grail … seeking to return the land to belief in the One God, the one true King.
Sir Percival, in his quest, encountered the evil boy-prince Mordred … the illegitimate son of Arthur and his half-sister Morgana … who asked Sir Percival if he sought the Grail. Percival said, “I do,” and Mordred led Percival to a tree where there were many rotting corpses of knights hanging from the tree’s limbs.
This symbolizes the persecution of Jesus and his Apostles; and that is why we read so often how the Apostles recalled, “They hung him from a tree.”
Mordred told Percival, “They [the death knights] were looking for it too. But they weren’t good enough.” That says they were “good,” but martyrdom alone will not return a land to peace. There must be a steady flow … a renewal of knights … so more will come to replace those fallen.
Sir Percival was hung from the same tree by the servants of Prince Mordred; but, near death, Percival experienced a vision. He saw a God-like figure in a king’s castle, sitting on a throne, high atop a flight of stairs.
The scene evokes imagery of Jacob’s ladder, where angels went up and down, to and from heaven.
This kingly figure and Percival have this exchange in the movie, after which Percival glimpses the Holy Grail:
To enter the castle, Percival had to remove his armor to keep from drowning in the moat. This is like David removing Saul’s armor, before he could fight Goliath.
Grail figure: “What is the secret of the Grail? Who does it serve?”
Percival: “You, my lord.”
Grail Figure: “Who am I?”
Percival: “You are my lord and king. You are Arthur.”
Grail Figure: “Have you found the secret that I have lost?”
Percival: “Yes. You and the land are one.”
The Grail itself is symbolic of the cup that held the wine that Jesus shared with his disciples … it symbolizes the cup of salvation from which we drink each Eucharist service we hold, in honor of Christ. We drink from that cup so we can serve the LORD … so we can serve our King filled with the Holy Spirit … so we can be one with God and Christ.
At that point in the movie when that vision ended, Sir Percival was saved from suffering and death on that tree, falling to the ground. Once saved, he returned to Camelot and immediately took a royal chalice with wine to Arthur. The following exchange takes place:
A perfect symbolic picture for the revitalization of Christianity. Percival has taken on the image of John the Baptist, re-baptizing a memory so the dove will once again descend from Heaven.
Percival: [holding the Grail to Arthur’s lips] “You and the land are one. Drink.”
Arthur: “I am wasting away. I cannot die and I cannot live.”
Percival: “Drink from the chalice. You will be reborn and the land with you.”
Arthur: [drinks] “Percival… I didn’t know how empty was my soul… until it was filled.”
It is important to see the immediacy of Salvation comes from receipt of the Holy Spirit … not from physically drinking wine from a pretty cup. It is our souls that thirst for the Holy Spirit. Without that Spirit, we are empty.
Now, these lines of dialogue come from a 1981 movie, and not the 12th-14th century tales of King Arthur. The script was molded from Le Morte d’Arthur, by Sir Thomas Mallory (published in 1485). However, other versions have text that differs from the movie script, with not all in agreement … such as some texts call Mordred the nephew of Arthur, rather than his illegitimate son.
As much as it interests me, my intention is not to preach about Excalibur, but to use those scenes to illuminate the message I see in the readings this week. Those images came to my mind as I read about the failure of Saul to lead the Israelites as Samuel told him, as God had commanded him.
The details of that failure precede what we read today, but we understand “the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.”
We then read how Samuel listened for God to tell him which of Jesse’s sons would be chosen as the next king of Israel. David being anointed as a boy parallels young Arthur pulling the sword from the stone.
The Sword [power] of the Holy Spirit is on the earthly plane [the stone], such that only those filled with the Holy Spirit can wield that power. The same symbolism is seen when David picked up smooth stones from the wadi.
In Psalm 20, David sings praise to the LORD: “Now I know that the LORD gives victory to his anointed; he will answer him out of his holy heaven, with the victorious strength of his right hand.”
Victory comes from God. Both Saul and David would know that personally, from both ends of the “victory” spectrum, where every victor yields a loser.
The answer that Percival gave to the LORD, “You and the land are one,” is like how Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
When an Apostle is “in Christ,” then Christ is in the Apostle.
Heaven and earth are one. The physical (land) and the Spirit are one. God the Father is in His Son and the Son is in the Father, as one. So too is anyone who is “in Christ,” as those are reborn as the Son of God.
Still, the element of youth abounds.
David was a boy king. Arthur was a boy who had to be knighted before he could officially [legally] become king. Percival was a squire who had to be knighted before he could officially defend the honor of Guinevere … the woman who I see as symbolic of the Church of Christ [Rome].
From youth comes the exuberance of devotion. When we are reborn with the Holy Spirit and “everything has become new,” we are like children … young at heart.
Saul failed because he was trying to fit an old earthly model … to be like a strong king, which identified with those kings of other nations of significance. With maturity comes experience and with experience comes the realization that being the king always brings challenges to that authority. Experience knows how hard it is to always be physically the strongest, so wise kings surround themselves with strong young arms.
That is the old earthly model …
Tyrants still parade their NEW [young] weapons and troops as a show of worldly power … not Spiritual power.
But, this old model always fails; and we see that in Saul’s failures before God, as well as David’s failures of his older life. Even wise Solomon fell victim to “believing his own press clippings,” thinking it was okay to marry women who practiced other religious rituals, and then sanctioning the worship of other gods in Israel. The failures come from thinking (as king) that one has the authority to introduce a perversion into the general rites of the population of God’s children. Saul thought he would be adding to his strength, if he pleased his young generals by giving them forbidden booty that was not his to give.
Not long ago, when we read from Isaiah, we read how he saw a vision of smoke in the Temple, which made him cry out that he was of a people with unclean lips. His cries caused a seraph to bring a coal from the Temple and place it to his lips – to purify him. That dream was symbolic of the failure of King Uzziah, who after many years of devoted service before the LORD, he then thought he was holy enough to do no wrong.
He was wrong to think that.
So, the Arthurian tale of King Arthur falling into despair, so that his kingdom also suffered, is a repeated theme in the Old Testament stories of our heritage.
Over time it is natural for the earthly to break down and fail.
We live in times … twenty centuries after Christianity was born, so that we no longer represent those times when “there [was] a new creation: [when] everything old [had] passed away; [and] everything [had] become new!” You have lost the Spirit we [Christianity] once had.
We live in a time that is representative of the young Prince Mordred … whose name means “We are bitten,” implying a “Painful” bite [like that of a snake, causing us to fear our mortality] … when the weakness that has befallen Christianity brings about the Painful tests of the devotion of the faithful … expecting them to “tremble” with fear, as did the elders of Bethlehem when Samuel arrived.
We want peace, but we fear war so much that there is no true peace.
It is the natural way of earthly things. As we age, we become weaker, less able to wear all the armor and lift all the heavy weapons.
But what we need to see today is how the answer to this present danger comes from the words spoken by Jesus, recounted in the Gospel reading in Mark.
Christianity today is just like when Arthur said to Percival, “I am wasting away. I cannot die and I cannot live.”
Arthur needed a champion like Percival to revive him.
It is up to us to give Christianity rebirth.
Jesus said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?”
He then answered, “It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown into the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth.”
Each one of us is like a mustard seed, individually of complete insignificance, of no importance, in no way capable of rescuing or protecting anyone or anything … including ourselves. Still, it is within us tiny mustard seeds where the kingdom of heaven can be found.
Jesus then continued, saying, “When [a mustard seed] is sown it grows up and become the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
That says, “Small people grow into the strength of God’s faith – that which avows Christ is King – that which produces Knights as Apostles, with large branches of denominations – each devoted believers, whose faith is rooted in the strength of God, advocated by Christ to receive the Holy Spirit – the wine of power from the Holy Grail.”
Heaven and Earth are one, when the Holy Spirit takes root and grows in You.
Christians are the protectors of the earth, because the arms of Christ – the nations and lands under Christian kings – provide homes where all can see the peace that is brought forth by the LORD.
In this Church calendar period, known as Ordinary Time, we are asked to kneel before Christ our King and be knighted as defenders of the faith … as those who are sworn to die in self and be reborn as Jesus. Thus, we should see the urgency for our individual ordinations as priests, with our LORD sending us out on a quest to make the land and the King whole again.
Ordinary Time is a renewal of the Great Commission, when we must answer, just like everyone else, “Who do you serve?”
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow.”
We are those who are sowing the seeds of God’s love through Christ.
The “greatest of all shrubs” must be a strong sanctuary for the faithful … or it will become where the faithful will be hung, for “not being good enough.”
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