Jon Foreman: The Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand, Even in Quarantine

Easter is a day that holds tremendous significance for followers of Christ. This Easter Sunday, as we watch the COVID-19 pandemic bring death and fear all over the world, a celebration of resurrection feels exceptionally poignant. So wherever you are, whatever you believe in — please stay with me. We could all use a bit of perspective and hope these days.

Today we are witnessing a seminal event in human history. Never before has the world been so interconnected, facing a common enemy as united as we now are today. And yet, much of our postmodern consumer culture is crumbling around us. Many of the things we were all working for a few weeks ago for don’t exist anymore. These are uncharted waters and for many, tomorrow is a place of fear and doubt.

Consider for a moment, the ways we attempt to bring purpose, meaning, and fulfillment to our lives: control, pleasure, ethics, freedom. A new home, a new car, a new wife, a new job, a new security camera. We are always aiming for some future version of our life that is somehow better than this moment. Yet none of these achievements can save us from the crisis that we now face.

But what if the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand? Here. In this moment.

What if the Kingdom of Heaven was within you? Right now. What if our culture of control and pleasure was a world spinning backward and upside down? What if money couldn’t buy happiness, fame couldn’t deliver meaning and neither power nor control could bring safety?

2000 years ago, there was a man who said “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” His disciples were like you or me: looking for freedom, looking for truth, looking for meaning. He told them, “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the outcasts.”

Those words are either irrelevant platitudes or they are incendiary, revolutionary statements; words that go against everything that we hold dear. Words that get you into trouble with both Religious Right and the powers on the Left. They are either silly little words that belong in a children’s story or they are words that could get you killed. Crucified even.

On the Good Friday, before Jesus was killed, he prayed “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You.”

Now at this point, Christ’s disciples had seen many miracles: the blind could see, the lame could walk, the dead were brought back to life. I wonder what his disciples thought this new “glory” would look like. What incredible feat was the Christ about to perform? I’m pretty sure none of them thought that “the glory of God” was a man lynched and killed alongside criminals. Their fearless leader shamed and humiliated by a public death sentence.

Turns out, the glory of God is his self-sacrificial love. The glory of God is His entrance into our pain. He takes upon himself the madness of the human condition. All of the hateful, lusting, greedy, racist, sexist, self-destructive, despairing, madness that we are and that we fear. He embraces all of it. And takes it upon Himself.

Christ does not erase our pain and death and fear away. No. He enters in. He is wounded. He is tortured. He is humiliated. He enters into our pain. He did not offer a magic prayer or talisman that removes these fears from our mind. He embraces them. He embraces us.

On the one hand, these are not comforting words at all. Yes: you will die someday. Yes: you will have troubles. Yes: you will have pain. Yes: if you are following Christ you will be misunderstood, mocked, imprisoned perhaps maybe even killed. So there’s that.

But on the other hand, this self-sacrificial love of my Redeemer is a transcendent revelation that changes my entire world. Setting it upside down, and right side right. My pain, my fear, even my death is reborn with purpose. I am no longer enslaved to a selfish, meaningless pursuit of pleasure. I am now truly free to give myself away, knowing that by serving even the least of these I am serving Christ himself. The meaning of even my pain is reborn with significance.

A few days ago, my friend sent me a picture of his wife and their newborn son, Archer, who had just been born at the hospital down the street. It was such a joy to see this infant’s picture appear on my phone, especially against the backdrop of everything else that’s going on in the world right now. New life! New joy! The pain of childbirth is a pain I can only imagine. And yet, this pain has a purpose. A pregnant mother endures and embraces this pain to give birth to new life. What an incredible picture of self-sacrificial love: a mother enduring the pain, giving all of herself to her child.

Today let’s embrace the pain of this moment. Let us embrace our limitations. Let us embrace our flawed humanity. Let us repent and pray that our eyes would be opened to the Kingdom of Heaven, here and now! This is a day of celebration, where we remember the resurrection. Remembering the cross …where love conquers death. Where peace shames violence. Where the weak laugh at the strong and the vulnerable conquer the protected.

The Easter story is the story of a lynching 2000 years ago. The story of a disadvantaged man from an underprivileged part of a developing nation who had a message for anyone who would listen. “Repent! For the kingdom of the heavens is at hand!”

So this Easter, I’m praying for that same resurrection. Metaphorical, spiritual, physical, emotional resurrection. I’m praying “kingdom come.” Heaven right here and now in quarantine. Even in this a time of mourning. Of death. Of decay. Even here, when our entire world is shrouded in the tomb of fear and doubt? Yes. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Within me. Strong where I am weak.

This is my prayer. For me and for you. That we might embody Christ. That we might fully embrace this moment- loving our families, our community and even ourselves with the self-sacrificial love that we have been given.

My friends, let us embrace this moment for what it is. Yes, there is death. Yes, there is pain. And suffering. And fear. But let us also embrace the awkward joy of being human. Today. Now. Love is reaching out to you. Through you. That you might your neighbor as yourself. Loving your community as Christ has loved you.

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A Prayer for today

My Father,

The spirit of the age is war, death, lust, revenge, fear, mockery, division, cynicism, anger, gluttony, and apathy. And yet, the burden of the Christian is the burden of the cross. Nothing more, nothing less.

Deliver me from these demons. Set me free, from within and from without. We are mortals, all of us — alive for just a moment. Walking miracles. Waking dreams. Beautiful momentary flowers, here but for a glance. We are embodied souls and thoughts, spirit shrouded in skin and facial expressions.

Oh, Timeless Creator, remake me in your skin. That I might give life to the world around me.

I embrace my mortality. I embrace your peace. Your love. I embrace the work that lies before me. I embrace even my past mistakes, I confess them. And I surrender them to you. Leaving me holding nothing in my empty hands, nothing encumbering me from your love. And your outstretched arms. I embrace you, my God.

My love, help me take off the shroud of shame and guilt and fear and death and striving. Your yoke is easy, your burden is light. Clothe me with your love and grace, my savior.

Thank you for your resurrection. I surrender to your love,

Amen

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