Charlemagne was a righteous king in many ways. Yes, he had taken over an entire continent, but he allowed people to live under their own laws. He did not impose his own laws on everyone. People were judged by the laws of their own tribe or ethnic group. Jewish people were treated relatively well in Charlemagne’s realm. Charlemagne supported the church, and Charlemagne gathered scholars from everywhere to participate in a great resurgence of learning called the Carolingian Renaissance. Something like a third of all the books we have from ancient Greece and Rome were preserved by Charlemagne's court. They would have been lost otherwise.
Theodulf of Orleans was part of this great resurgence. He traveled all the way across Europe to serve in Charlemagne’s court. He wrote poetry. He participated in theological debates of the time. He worked for a system of universal education whereby children, both boys and girls would learn to read for free at the cathedral schools. He worshiped in the Charlemagne’s eight sided cathedral chapel, with its green marble siding and red marble trim and white marble pillars. Theodulf loved this Christian king, this Christian Empire.
But Theodulf lived too long. Charlemagne did what we all do sooner or later. He died. Of old age. Charlemage’s son, Louis the Pious, was far more religious than Charlemagne, but far less wise. He did not manage the insurrections in his realm well. There were civil wars. Purges. The Empire began to come apart.
Somehow, Theodulf of Orleans was caught up in one of Louis the Pious’s purges, and was confined to house arrest, killed a few years later. Probably know it was coming. In the intervening time, Theodulf watched from his home, as his beloved empire cracked and faded. That was when he wrote this song:
All glory, laud and honor to you redeemer king
To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.
Not a conquering king, a redeemer king. Not a king to whom the great choirs sang with orchestra and brass band, but children.
Today, we marched with palm branches waving, to remember another parade, another march into town, where Jesus rides on a donkey, and people expect a powerful ruler the Son of David, the heir to David’s throne, who will drive out the Romans and bring freedom and prosperity.
We know that’s not going to happen. We know Jesus is going to lose.
Jesus is anointed. People think it’s extravagant luxury. Jesus tells us it’s for his burial.
People walk up to Jesus on the cross. They say “Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Jesus could bring them over to his side. He could increase his power base, get more people to believe he is the Messiah by coming down from the cross. But Jesus knows, we know, that Jesus is the Messiah precisely because he does not come down from the cross.
What kind of a king is this, who rides into town not a war horse, but on a donkey, who is anointed not for luxury, but for his death, who rules not from a marble throne, but from a wooden cross? What kind of a king is this?
This is a redeemer king. This is a king who saves.