Suffering for the Kingdom of God

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Because of my own self-consciousness as a sinner, Lent is my most profound season of the church calendar. Lent reminds me – and I hope all of us – of Jesus’ passion and his journey to the cross. I lived in Jerusalem for some years, and my most enduring memories revolve around the Good Friday processions along Via Dolorosa, or the way of sorrows. Yet, Good Friday and via dolorosa are merely the climax of Jesus’ vocation from the moment he publicly proclaimed – according to Mark 1:15 in the Gospel Reading for the First Sunday in Lent – “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”.

Our own vocation, as we were reminded last Sunday – on Transfiguration Sunday or the Sunday before Ash Wednesday – entails bearing the cross.

My thoughts are right now revolving around “the kingdom of God” and “the good news”, and in fact the two are connected. The kingdom of God is in contrast to the Empire, whether it is the Roman Empire or nationalism and patriotism, just as the good news is in contrast to the Roman proclamation of good news or the good tidings of Isrealites’ release from captivity, or even today’s economic prosperity and record stock prices.

The good news transforms the empire into the kingdom of God: Transformation from anger, war, revenge, jealousy and competition to forgiveness, peace, goodwill and the common good. This transformation is seated in the heart, in the soul of every human; when we reach there, we build the kingdom of God. It is in the present, it begins now, not in some future time.

In this Season of Lent, Jesus is calling us to walk in his footsteps, practicing forgiveness, peace and goodwill. This Way of the Cross is difficult, often beset with temptations to follow the easy ways of the empire. Let our hearts and minds cling to the prayer in the Collect for this Sunday: “Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weakness of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save…”

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