Responsively Yours: Thy Kingdom Come
I’ve been talking quite a bit about the kingdom or reign of God. This phrase is connected to a boundary-breaking, extravagant vision about what living in God’s providence would be like. Think about the fruitfulness of the mustard seed or the hidden impact of leaven in the loaf.
Interestingly, the Gospels give several different indications of how the kingdom or reign of God might become our lived experience. Is it “inherited” by the poor, or does it “belong” to the poor already (Luke 6:20)? Jesus also indicates that it is something that we receive as a gift (Luke12:32) as well as something for which we are to “strive” (Luke 12:31), rather than striving for possessions. One can understand why some Christians work for the coming of the kingdom, and others wait for it.
The timing of the arrival of the kingdom is also described in several ways. Jesus tells the congregation in the synagogue at Nazareth that the prophecy that describes the freedom, healing and table-turning nature of the kingdom is fulfilled “this day.” During his public ministry, Jesus instructed the disciples to teach that the kingdom was “at hand.” This leads to the theologians’ description of the kingdom existing “already” and at the same time being “not yet” fully experienced. We can perhaps understand this already-not yet dynamic by thinking about Charles Wesley’s sentiment that the fellowship we experience through Christ is a foretaste of what we will experience in heaven.
Jesus, who proclaimed that the prophetic word was fulfilled in the message at Nazareth, also taught the disciples to pray for the kingdom to come. In the “Lord’s Prayer” we still make this petition regularly.
The form of prayer itself seems to me to echo some of the tropes of Hebrew poetry, in that it has at least two sets of paired phrases that illustrate or amplify each other.
“Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” may be seen as two references to God’s glory and the appropriateness revering God.
“Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Here the coming of the kingdom is linked to God’s will being done on earth with the same faithfulness that’s employed by those in the heavenly realm.
Who exactly are we praying will do the will of God? I confess that when I pray this prayer, I am almost always thinking about those in authority who we want to act justly and reform policies that isolate people from one another and make it harder for marginalized people to thrive as loved children of God. What if I’ve been missing something very important? What if the most immediate need is for me to do the will of God? Perhaps if all people of faith acted as if the kingdom had already come in all the ways that matter, the “not yet” aspects of God’s reign would have less power and dominion already.
This Advent season, as we celebrate Emmanuel, let us remember that Jesus has already come and has called us his friends. May we be prepared to do God’s will, just as God’s will is done in heaven.
HARRIETT JANE OLSON
Deputy General Secretary