When we feel sad, anxious, dislocated we may just be homesick for our true home and its king
Liz Stuart, 22 November 2020
Ezekiel 34: 11–16, 20–24; Ephesians 1: 15–23; Matthew 25: 31–46
I go about my normal day-to-day life not feeling particularly British, but when I go abroad I suddenly become very conscious of the fact that I’m British, not because I don’t enjoy other countries or other cultures, because I do very much. In fact, whenever I go on holiday, I immediately want to move there, wherever it is. I just become very conscious that I am a British person. When I walked a section of the Camino pilgrimage a few years ago, I couldn’t work out how it was that all the other pilgrims immediately knew I was British before I even opened my mouth. My blunt Australian friend enlightened me: ‘It’s because you are sort of a pinkish-grey colour’, she said.
Today is the Feast of Christ the King. It is a day to remind ourselves that we are natives of another kingdom – the Kingdom of God; subjects of a different monarch – Christ. It is also a day to ask ourselves: do we stand out as natives of another regime? Do I have the funny colour of one who belongs to the Kingdom of God?
Ezekiel was a prophet to a people in exile in Babylon. He promises his people that, like a shepherd, God will find and gather his scattered sheep. In our gospel reading Jesus reveals who those sheep are, who are the people of the Kingdom of God: they are people who strive for justice for others, people who are hospitable and generous, caring for those in need and for the marginalised. And what always strikes me about this passage is that the sheep do not know they have been serving Jesus. This suggests that it’s not just those of us who have the privilege and joy of knowing Jesus who are his sheep. I also know from personal experience that it’s not easy to distinguish between sheep and goats in Israel, which is a warning against daring to declare which is which unless you happen to be the shepherd.
In our culture we have got into the habit of pathologising sadness, anxiety, cognitive dissonance, feeling out of place and out of sorts with the dominant discourses; when sometimes I think these feelings are not a sign of ill-health necessarily, but the natural reaction of a stranger in a strange land, where the values between our home nation – the Kingdom of God – and the culture in which we live clash. We should feel uneasy sometimes, just as we should feel joy when the Kingdom breaks through into our world, into our society. For we’re not aliens waiting for transportation back to our home planet, we’re not ET; no, we are waiting for the Kingdom of God, which is much vaster and deeper than our world, to be born into our world, and we are called to help midwife it in. In Ezekiel’s vision God is furious with the sheep who ruin and exploit the glorious green earth which he has created for all to enjoy, and he’s angry with the sheep who ill-treat their weaker brothers and sisters.
We are waiting for the Kingdom of God, which is much vaster and deeper than our world, to be born into our world, and we are called to help midwife it in.
I was recently reading an article about mental health amongst immigrants and I was surprised to learn than mental health in immigrant groups is usually higher, better, than the general population, because people coming from other cultures and countries often have values and practices conducive to thriving which are absent from the dominant culture in which they now live. As this season of remembrance draws to a close during a time of pandemic, let’s remind ourselves of a couple of the great truths of the Kingdom of God which may grate with our culture but which can sustain us during this difficult time.
The first is that there is only one kingdom encompassing both the living and the dead. The dead are not lost to us; they are just deeper in, alive at a profounder level and we meet them – we all come together, living and dead, one kingdom – during the celebration of the Eucharist. The second is that prayer is our highway into the Kingdom of God. When we feel sad, anxious, dislocated we may just be homesick for our true home and its king, and prayer can take us there in an instant. That’s what prayer is – a portal into the Kingdom of God.
And lastly, now it’s so hard not to be able to see each other, to be with each other, but again, through prayer we are always together in that kingdom. We can never really be separated from one another; our lives may part us on the surface, but in the depths of prayer we are never ever lost to one another. So let’s pray for one another that, in the words of the letter to the Ephesians, the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened and we know the hope to which he has called us, the hope of the Kingdom of God. Amen.