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Friday, 30 January 2015

The upside-down Kingdom of God

At my first training weekend as a curate the then Bishop of Barking, David Hawkins, performed a handstand to demonstrate the way in which Jesus, through his teaching in the beatitudes, turns our understanding of life upside down. As opposed to the survival of the fittest or looking after No. 1, the Kingdom of God, as it is described in the Beatitudes, is a place of happiness for those who know they are spiritually poor, a place of comfort for those who mourn, a place of receptivity for those who are humble, a place of satisfaction for those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires, a place of mercy for those who are merciful, a place in which God is seen by the pure in heart, a place in which those who work for peace are called God’s children, and a place which belongs to those who are persecuted because they do what God requires.

I've been reminded of this by a post at The Jesus Question about an artwork called Jesus Striped and Stripped by Cedric Baxter.

Victoria Emily Jones writes that, 'Every year since 2008 (excepting last year, due to ministerial transitions), Catherine Czerw has curated a Lenten art exhibition on behalf of Wesley Uniting Church in Perth, Australia, called Stations of the Cross. She selects fifteen Australian artists to participate, each one choosing a station to depict. Jesus Striped and Stripped was Cedric Baxter's 2011 contribution for Station 10, traditionally articulated as "Jesus is stripped of his garments."'

'Baxter's tenth station captures Jesus mid-tumble, naked and abused and down on his way to death, but what Christians know and glory in, especially during the Easter season, is that he's circling back. He's turning a cartwheel! The upside downness of Jesus in this image challenges us to look at Passion Week with the right perspective: as a journey that brings Christ low only to raise him up.'

Baxter's image would have been perfect for a short liturgy which I prepared a while back for the Barking Area Team meeting and subsequently used at a Deanery Synod and at St John's Seven Kings. This liturgy began with an opening reflection taken from St Francis of Assisi by G. K. Chesterton:

'[Saint] Francis, at the time … when he disappeared into the prison or the dark cavern, underwent a reversal of a certain psychological kind … The man who went into the cave was not the man who came out again … He looked at the world as differently from other men as if he had come out of that dark hole walking on his hands … If a man saw the world hanging upside down, with all the trees and towers hanging head downwards as in a pool, one effect would be to emphasise the idea of dependence … It would make vivid the Scriptural text which says that God has hanged the world upon nothing.'

This image of coming out of a cave walking on our hands was used by Mumford & Sons in their song entitled The Cave. I adapted this to form the opening response:

May we come out of our cave walking on our hands and see the world hanging upside down. May we understand dependence when we know the maker's hand. Amen.

The prayer of penitence began by borrowing some phrases from Donald B. Kraybill: Jesus, you startle us as paradox, irony and surprise permeate your teachings flipping our expectations upside down: the least are the greatest; adults become like children; the religious miss the heavenly banquet; the immoral receive forgiveness and blessing. Things aren’t like we think they should be. We’re baffled and perplexed; uncertain whether to laugh or cry. Again and again, turning our world upside down, your kingdom surprises us and so we pray now to see your world and our lives as you see them.

I put these together with some of T. Bone Burnett's lyrics from Trap Door. The responses were:

Lord, forgive our knowingness, our grasping, our comfort and our self-satisfaction.

Lord, forgive our attempts to be loved, our pride, our pleasure-seeking and our leisure-seeking. As we turn to you, turn our lives upside down and bless us with poverty, with grief, with meekness, with hunger, with mercy, with purity, with peacemaking, with persecution and with your upside down kingdom. Amen.
The prayers of intercession were as follows: 

God of Israel, the God of the Exodus, you hear the cry of slaves and deliver true liberation. New regimes which leave the old order in place, the bullies in power, the greedy with their unjust gains, and which have nothing to say to the oppressed are not good and are not news. Having heard the subversive nature of your kingdom announcement, we pray for an upside-down kingdom that will deliver true liberation.

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.

It is the humble poor who know their need of you and those who have nothing who know they need everything. So we pray for those moments when we and others become poor in spirit, bereaved, meek, hungry, thirsty, and turn faces to you looking for salvation. Open doors in us and others that gain and comfort have locked tight.

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.

The Gospel announcement, your salvation, is truly comprehensive, is truly for all, because it is offered to losers, by circumstance or choice. The poor have no means of becoming rich but the rich have within themselves the possibility of becoming poor. There is nothing that we don’t have that will bar our entry to this upside-down kingdom and so we pray to be rid of what we do have that your kingdom may truly come to all.

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

The liturgy ended with Gerard Kelly's Let Your Kingdom Come.


T. Bone Burnett - Trap Door.

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