We cannot let the signs of the kingdom born in the last few months be smothered
Liz Stuart, 14 June 2020
Romans 5: 1–8; Matthew 9: 35–10: 8
We are back in liturgical green. We last saw it in February in the short weeks between Christmastide and Lent but now, as Peter said last week, we have it until the season of Remembrance, which begins in November. The time associated with liturgical green is also sometimes known as ordinary time. Ordinary. In these times we’re going through we long for the ordinary – a hair cut (don’t look at the back of my head; I had to have a go with the clippers), a cup of tea with a friend in your lounge, a church service.
Our gospel today reminds us that we are not meant for the ordinary and the normal. But what we prepared for in purple and celebrated in white and gold and red is the extraordinary breaking in on the ordinary and the normal, God breaking into our world and bringing his kingdom in. Jesus summons his disciples to do exactly what he does: to proclaim the kingdom in words and enactment. By virtue of our baptism we are their heirs and their mission is ours.
A poster has appeared around Winchester in the last couple of weeks; you may have seen it plastered onto telephone junction boxes and the like. It’s an Extinction Rebellion poster and it asks the question: Back to Normal? It’s asking us, ‘Do we really want to go back to normal when all this is over?’
There is nothing good about the coronavirus. It has caused untold misery, serious sickness, and it’s taken those we love. But amid this suffering God’s kingdom has broken through just as it did in Jesus’ day. There was nothing good about his situation – an occupied land riven with division, hate and poverty – but into that mess he danced, announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom. Knowing that the kingdom comes not in perfect conditions but in mess and suffering is part of discipleship. It is what St Paul talks about in our first reading today. We endure suffering not because suffering is good, but because hope is born in it, the kingdom comes in it and we know it. That is the gift the Holy Spirit gives us: to look for and know the signs of the kingdom amid pain and struggle.
So how has the kingdom broken into our lives in the last few months? It has cast out some of our demons, those things which convince us that we are not dependent upon God.
I don’t know about you, but I had my whole year planned out. I knew when I was going on holiday, when I was going on retreat, when I was going to be priested, what was going to happen at work … and then all of a sudden that was all gone. Instead I found myself updating my will and leaving a letter on my desk, just in case, because all of a sudden we had to face the fact that we all might have entered into the autumn of our lives. Suddenly everything we think of as secure looked about as stable as that house built upon sand.
It cured us of our valorisation of money when we realised that wealth and status had no power against the virus, that those who we pay least are in fact the ones we need most. The kingdom broke in in a shower of a million acts of compassion and kindness that healed us, in the rediscovery of arts and creativity in the absence of our ability to carry on consuming, in a renewed appreciation of the vision of the NHS, the gifts of teachers, the wisdom and faith of our wonderful monarch. It broke through in deep questions and a rediscovery of delight in others.
The kingdom broke in in a shower of a million acts of compassion … in the rediscovery of arts and creativity … in deep questions and a delight in others.
The kingdom cured us of our unclean spirit of pollution, in the silence of the skies, the refreshing of the air that allowed the earth and its creatures to breathe.
It broke through with the realisation that our society’s marginalisation of the elderly had reached unspeakable levels. The kingdom broke through when we grasped that the isolation that is hard for us to bear is experienced every day as normality by millions of our elderly and disabled neighbours.
It broke through in the realisation that the confinement that imprisoned us is what we impose on wild animals kept for our entertainment.
It erupted in the recognition that the fear that gripped our hearts in the lockdown is fear experienced every day by many black people, other ethnic minorities and other minorities who do feel entirely safe and equal in their own country.
The kingdom erupted in the recognition that the fear that gripped our hearts in the lockdown is fear experienced every day by many black people.
Back to normal? We, you and I, are children of God’s kingdom. The disciples of Jesus cannot let the signs of the kingdom born in the last few months be smothered by the return to the normal. They have been freely given to us and we must do all we can to protect and preserve them, whatever the cost. We cannot go back to normal even while others try to close normality back over us.
We will be in liturgical green for many, many weeks now. Green is the colour of growth, renewal and healing. It is the colour of the kingdom breaking in among us. When we see it in the coming weeks let it remind us of what we are all called to do, each of us as clearly and really as Jesus called his first disciples: to point to where the kingdom has interrupted our normality and to stand against those forces which would seek to smother it with a return to our familiar systems and practices. To draw on the imagery used in Philip Larkin’s poem ‘The Trees’, our role is to proclaim that normality is dead, and because of what God has done for us in Christ, we can all begin ‘afresh, afresh, afresh’. Amen.