REVEREND RUTTON ON THE WAY JAMES AND JOHN LEAD US TO JESUS CHRIST
Oh dear! Sorry to start with a negative folks, but what DID you make of ‘Freedom Day’? Or ‘Free’dumb’ day, as one tabloid headline gleefully put it. What a Monday it was! Boris had to isolate, and tell double-jab French returnees to quarantine after all (even though they are amber… or what colour are they? No idea – because it probably does not matter anyway!). Queues formed outside nightclubs as youth counted down the minutes to midnight – loudly – before charging in, whilst the rest of us cowered in our beds and ordered extra masks and sanitiser, making the most of a temporary price reduction perhaps.
The NHS went apoplectic with concern about operation backlogs, pinged (and therefore absent) staff, and the Tokyo athletes tried hard not to catch ‘It’ from each other, so they can do their thing in front of no audience. And – of course – out rolled the ‘experts’ with their vacuous warnings and vague prognosis and homespun woolly ‘advice’ of what they think might be the case. Or indeed not. The nation seems divided between the gung-ho let’s just get on with it herd immunity folks, and the overly fearful, who would rather not die at the sharp end of unfounded predictions and graphs. Or indeed, spread it around to the vulnerable.
There seems so little safe ground in between the two extremes. So, here is a question: how do we then live as Christians? Do we live for now, with all its uncertainty and huge difficulty? Or do we live for a future, that we hope is hugely better? Do we grit our teeth and batten down the hatches and put Vera Lynn back on the gramophone? Or do we shake off caution and fear, and say ‘things can only get better’? Or is there a third way?
In our Gospel reading, James and John, despite the privations and challenges of an itinerant, uncertain future following Jesus, clearly believe in better things – in a future dimension, ruling in splendour at the right and left had side of Christ’s throne of power. Well – that’s what their Mum wants for them, anyway.
You might criticise their ambition, and their fragmented understanding of heaven, but not their theology of a future life in glory. An afterlife newer, and stronger, and better, and transformed, and transcended, from this present reality. For so it will be. But be careful what you wish for – so Jesus tells them. No eternal gain without present pain and suffering. And as if to prove the point, we recall that the next two ‘disciples’ to appear at Jesus’ right and left do so in the worst of circumstances – that is, the dying thieves, crucified one on each side of Him. Where, then, is light? How then do we live in these uncertain times, trusting in God for better, when the immediate seems to get worse all the time? Well – there IS light! Because God goes before us, and He has a plan. God always has a plan.
On Sunday, our Old Testament reading is psalm 126. A psalm of surreal, sublime, delirious joy. We who are redeemed are so used to the dark, that when God’s light shines – as surely it will – we are blinded by it, drunk with it, and disorientated by our new surroundings . As Christians, we hold both in tension: present pain and distress and uncertainly, yes. But also a sure and certain future hope of joy and peace and triumph. How can you possibly synthesise both? James and John tell Jesus they can. And Jesus graciously agrees, even though their knowledge of these things is so imperfect.
Let’s put all that together next Sunday, as we worship together, and explore these amazing passages further. See you there! Amen