In his pastoral letter for May 2020, Bishop Clive is transported to Saturday nights and Thursday evenings, toasting the arrival of a different future
I have never been the greatest Sci-Fi fan, but have always loved Dr Who, and through that portal I have been transported into other worlds, parallel universes. It has probably been healthy for my instinctively rational mind to have to suspend disbelief and embrace the seemingly impossible, if only for 40 minutes on a Saturday night.
Perhaps it has been good training for living in a pandemic? For the last six weeks it has felt as if the settled, familiar reality to which we are conformed and accustomed, has been shattered, and all we have left is fragments of how things used to be, alongside strange new experiences – perhaps horrific, or alarming or rather wonderful...
That sense of different realities converging, comes into sharp focus for me every Thursday at 8p.m. We spill out of our front door and look out on the suburban street we have known so well for 13 years. But as the houses empty, we see people who we never knew were our neighbours, clapping as enthusiastically as us. And then the care workers from the residential homes opposite come out too, in their masks and gloves. Our new heroines. No doubt as poorly paid as ever, but along with key workers everywhere, freshly valued and celebrated.
As Christians, we often forget that the most important, urgent, theme of Jesus’ preaching was the Kingdom of God. Perhaps we forget because the Kingdom is itself such a difficult concept to fully grasp or comprehend. But there are enough pointers in Jesus’ words and actions for us to understand that the Kingdom is both present and future, it is a kind of alternative reality that can break in in the present moment but the full glory of which is reserved for the future.
Jesus’ preached the Kingdom of God in a context where life for many was nasty, brutish and short. There was not a pandemic but life was lived under Roman occupation, and as Albert Camus observed in his novel, The Plague, there are many similarities between living with a plague and living under totalitarianism.
Jesus’ antidote to the fear and insecurity he experienced growing up in the Judea of his time, was to preach a message of hope that was rooted in the good news of God’s love for his Creation. The message caught fire because it was lived out by Jesus and his followers in ways that transformed lives, often miraculously. Glimpses of a parallel world, a Kingdom based on the principles of love and acceptance, healing and forgiveness, lifted people out of their grim, fearful, present reality, Faith was the portal through which the Kingdom was accessed.
Our churches may be shut, for the present, and many of us feel that deprivation acutely. But the lack of functioning religious buildings need be no hindrance to the effective proclamation of God’s Kingdom. People may be the carriers of Covid–19, but people too are the torchbearers of the Kingdom, and every altruistic deed, every lovingly motivated prayer or action, bears witness to a different reality.
Apparently people are drinking considerably more alcohol during lockdown. It’s understandable, but it’s no substitute for what Jesus described as the new wine of the Kingdom. The sort that we drink freely of when we step into a different reality on Thursday evenings. Imagine if, as we clap, we are toasting the arrival of a different future to that we may have envisaged just a month or so ago. One which is kinder, more thankful, more connected to one another and to nature, less enslaved to wealth and more appreciative of goodness. One where Jesus would feel more at home and the Kingdom much nearer at hand.
Bishop of Wolverhampton
image: an imaginative clergy stole including sci-fi references alongside scripture and and community aspects