“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun” – the first two lines of Keats well-known poem “To Autumn”. Autumn is perhaps my favourite season, hence my fondness for this particular poem. Having said that, each season has its own particular merits, each with something to look forward to. Similarly, I love the rhythm and flow of the Church’s year, the different seasons and the different stories they tell.
Currently, we’re in what’s informally called “The Kingdom Season”, which runs from All Saints’ Day, or All Saints’ Sunday to the eve of the First Sunday of Advent which, this year, falls on the 27th November. The Kingdom season offers a time to celebrate and reflect upon the kingdom of God, ending with the great Feast of Christ the King on the 20th November. We then return to the beginning of the story on Advent Sunday, this time following the lectionary for Year A, the year of Matthew.
Past, present and future
In the Kingdom season the past, the present and the future are brought together and held in a time of now-ness. Looking to the past we remember:
- The Saints – our ancestors in the faith who from their labours rest, leaving behind their example and their teaching.
- On All Souls’ we remember the Faithful Departed – the men and women who have been special to us in our lives and our faith journey and who we remember with thanksgiving and prayer.
- Those who lost their lives in war or who suffered terrible injury of body or mind.
Looking to the future, we anticipate the day when Christ will return as King and Judge, reigning on earth and in heaven.
And in the present we reflect, yes on the return of Christ as King but also on the mystery of his Kingdom in which there is no past or future. Today, in this present moment, although limited by time and space, we’re in union with the whole company, the whole citizenship of heaven, we’re alongside the Saints and the angels in the Kingdom of God. I wonder how much we do understand of the nature of that Kingdom which in the end cannot be fully understood.
Questioned and challenged
In our Gospel reading this morning we hear the Sadducees asking Jesus about life after death and resurrection (something which they don’t actually believe in!) To set this in context, it takes place in Jerusalem, during the days between the elation of Palm Sunday and the agony of Good Friday.
Jesus is constantly being questioned and challenged. By whose authority is he acting? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? After the resurrection, whose wife will a widow be if she’s been married seven times?
The Sadducees know exactly what they’re doing. They’re not standing before Jesus honestly desiring an answer to their question. They’re in Jesus’ presence, at best, simply because they want to humiliate him in front of the people. And they’re hoping to trick Jesus into saying something blasphemous, or openly rebellious against Caesar, so they can have him arrested, charged and killed. Their aim is to argue, frustrate, and force Jesus into a particular way of thinking. The question that formed on their lips is not genuine. They’re simply attempting to bait Jesus with one of their classic “what if” questions, a question on which their minds were settled long ago.
I think that most of us may have resorted to this kind of questioning at some point? The militarist asks the pacifist, “what if someone was attempting to rob you and your family, would you fight back?” or the child asks the mother, “what if the world ended tomorrow, would you really make me do my homework tonight?” or the sceptic asks the believer, “what if there is no God, would you still pray?”
Their question “So, Jesus, Moses wrote for us about how to handle a situation if a married man dies without producing children. The wife is to remarry one of her brothers-in-law in order to have a child. But, supposing this happened repeatedly such that a woman remarried seven brothers and never had any children with any of them, who would she be married to in the resurrection?”
Jesus responds to the various questions with some quick, witty and intelligent ripostes frequently leaving the questioners baffled and looking a little foolish. In fact we’re told, in the two verses following today’s reading, that after this particular encounter with the Sadducees, his enemies no longer dare to ask Jesus further questions.
If this particular question had been an honest one, the Sadducees would have heard some valuable teaching about the kingdom of God, which we, fortunately, can learn from even if they chose not to. Jesus makes it clear that the question is based on a complete misunderstanding of resurrection and God’s kingdom.
Human ways of behaving and relating to each other will be changed because human beings will be changed. They become like angels, they are children of God, children of the resurrection. Jesus talks about the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, saying “he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive”. In God, there is no past, present or future – his Kingdom is beyond time.
Can we imagine?
When we reflect on the nature God’s kingdom, I think we need to be ready, unlike the Sadducees, to look beyond our earthly boundaries and the limitations of our understanding. Jesus invites us to think in a dimension in which there are no clocks to tell us what time it is and no deadlines to be met! No calendars with pictures of the countryside or cute puppies. No timetables. Instead, time is no more – there is only an eternal now. Can we imagine that?
Can we reflect on a dimension in which relationships like husband and wife; parent and child; uncles and aunts; nieces and nephews no longer have meaning because we’re all children of God and equal in his and each other’s eyes. Can we imagine that?
And what about a dimension in which poverty, injustice, oppression, cruelty, terrorism, war do not diminish the human spirit because they have no place in Christ’s Kingdom and have been redeemed. Can we imagine that?
And no religion – no distinction between Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist – all children of the One God and we will rejoice in that. Can we imagine a dimension in which we’re totally free to be who God created us to be – whatever that means for each one of us?
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords
And in this Kingdom season, as we think about and reflect on the Kingdom of God – its freedom, its creativity, its joy and its unity we can perhaps, learn to long for the coming of that Kingdom more deeply than before, and re-commit ourselves to doing all we can to bring the reality of God’s kingdom into the kingdoms of this world, remembering these words from scripture set to music in Handel’s Messiah:
“The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” Amen.
‘Kingdom Season: can we imagine?’ was a sermon delivered by Dr Sheila Beattie at St John with St Mark’s Bury on Sunday 6th November, 2022. It was based on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 and Luke 20:27-38. Sheila is Assistant Minister at Bury Parish Church and we are grateful for her leading and preaching at this service.