With the world turned upside down by the global pandemic, people of faith aligned to the kingdom of God are asking, how do we sing the Lord’s song in our troubled lands?
How do we now live, worship, and serve amid such upheaval, insecurity, fear, grief, and social isolation? Are most of our energies focused on enduring the worst of the crisis? Or is there an invitation amid this crisis to reengage in the life and purposes of Jesus in what some have called, his “upside down kingdom”?
If we reflect on the life and purposes of Jesus for our current time, this invitation to his kingdom-life becomes clearer. In one hand we might hold his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. In the other, we might hold people struggling with the many impacts of COVID-19. What might we see if we bring what we hold in our two hands closer together? In Jesus, we see the movements from life to death to greater resurrection life. In his Beatitudes we see the rich texture of his life which is available to form and shape us into his likeness amid our troubled world. Add to this mix his intimate accessibility through the power of the Holy Spirit. It soon becomes evident that Jesus is light and life for our world at this moment in time. He is inviting us into his life and purposes in the here and now.
The upheaval caused by the pandemic can potentially mirror more of who we truly are. It might reflect our insecurities and unmask our illusions of self-reliance, and of being in control. A time of crisis can amplify our poverty of spirit and awaken us to our absolute need of God. Here Jesus offers the blessing of his first Beatitude. Jesus meets and welcomes us, and through his redemptive love, swings open the door of the kingdom of heaven: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) Through the invitations and blessings of Jesus’ Beatitudes, the desire of the Holy Spirit is to form us in his likeness and to encourage our participation in the life of his kingdom as it is manifest here on earth.
Forming intimate solidarity with us in our griefs and losses, Jesus blesses our laments, mourns with us in a way that brings comfort and healing and opens inner space for the newness of his resurrection life. In this cross-shaped way of vulnerability and sacrifice, available to us through the Holy Spirit, Jesus walks with us through our troubled times, sharing in our laments, encouraging us in humility and meekness, igniting our passions for Godliness, fostering the giving and receiving of God’s tender mercies, decluttering and purifying our hearts as sites of discernment, schooling us in his way of peacemaking, and offering us his courage in the face of opposition (Matthew 5:4-10). Through his personal intimacy with us and our trying circumstances, he bid us not to be afraid.
If there is one gut-wrenching prayer, lifted-up to the Throne of Grace by the Holy Spirit, in this our Gethsemane moment, it is for God’s mercy. While the imprint of Jesus’ crucified and resurrection way may appear faint as the political and societal consensus around responding to this life-threatening situation is being undermined by misinformation, division, conflict, and blame, and where a disproportion of the weight of the pandemic falls upon the poor, the marginalised, the dispossessed and the frail elderly, his way reveals that we all stand under God’s mercy. This mercy, which is mercy upon mercy upon mercy, eclipses prejudice, diffuses blame, takes dominion over judgement, and is the seasoning of justice. Invited to receive mercy, and to become channels for God’s tender mercies to the burdened, anxious, and suffering people around us, releases within us the ministering power of the Holy Spirit, points us back to what Jesus reveals of the tender-heartedness of God, and infuses our kingdom life with the active expression of divine love.
The gentle, humble, and merciful heart of Jesus beats in solidarity with all people in this world turned upside down by the pandemic. He encourages us, as people of faith, in his kingdom way of solidarity, meekness, mercy and peace, to put the centre of ourselves outside to offer an unlimited space of love for others. What might have seemed his upside down kingdom, is the reality of living the right-way-up. Jesus’ kingdom life, actively embraced during such troubled times, is lived for the glory of God!
Christopher Brown and his wife Marilyn are part of the Windsor Road Baptist Church. He is an Honorary Research Fellow at Trinity College Queensland and is involved in spiritual companioning. He is co-editor with Irene Alexander of To Whom Shall We Go: Faith Responses in a Time of Crisis and contributes to holyscribblers.blogspot.com.