Upside Down Kingdom

The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Button Prichard

10 April 2017


I live in Southern California, in Orange County, close enough to Disneyland to hear the fireworks each night at 9:30 pm. We call it the Magic Kingdom, the happiest place on earth.

For the past week or so, I have been staying at Vaughan Park, a place that once seemed as far away as California may seem to many New Zealanders. I enjoyed the gift of hospitality there, and met many kindred spirits. And I have been in awe every day of the beauty of the landscape, of sea and sky and shore.

Whenever I've traveled "down under" to Australia or New Zealand, I've been aware of the reversal, the disorientation. We are the same in so many ways. And things are not always as expected. Driving, light switches, door knobs, all seem counter-intuitive. Travel north and the weather warms; go south it gets cooler. In New Zealand you can see the Milky Way and the Southern Cross, but not Polaris and the Ursa Major and Minor. A few weeks ago we went to Daylight Savings in California; we just went back to standard time during my stay in New Zealand.

Holy Week began on Sunday. I will be back in California by then. It seems impossible to me to think of Easter as coming in the Autumn. In the North, Easter is spring time, new life, bunnies, eggs, and chicks. That northern influence seems the default, perhaps unfortunately. Those living in the global south must always feel down under; those of us in the global north can't imagine not being on top. Travel helps us see our own normal in a new way, to rethink our perspective, to realize we are not the center of the universe.

North, South, East, or West, Holy Week is a remembering of Jesus' upside down kingdom. Hailed as a king, he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, a humble ruler, mighty in mercy. Even then, folk wanted a new emperor, a political upheaval, power, justice. But Jesus said, "my kingdom is not of this world." The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a grain of wheat, a bit of yeast. The reign of Christ is about suffering love, about the small but forceful signs of new life in every season, about the hope of shalom, a future of right relations.

The passion narratives ask us to view the world from God's perspective, with the loving eyes of Christ, from the Spirit's vantage point. Ours is not a mighty warrior God who rules from above. Jesus came to remind us that our God is merciful, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness. The suffering love of God we observe during Holy Week teaches us again and again that compassion for the weak and the vulnerable are signs of God's reign. Not the kingdom of this world, of my own nation, to be sure.

Just so, we remember Bonhoeffer's words from that prison cell, "only a suffering God can help us...and that is the way, the only way that God is with us and for us."

My prayer for this Holy Week, is that I, we, might walk through each day with humility, with a deep sense of God's love for us and for all creation, and with renewed compassion for those who are truly "on the bottom" wherever they may be.

©Rebecca Button Prichard
Image Disneyland Castle, USA, Wikipedia (modified)