For most of my life my grandparents lived in a cottage in a village on the outskirts of the Cotswolds. Their cottage like much of the Cotswolds was made of sandstone, so it was a beautiful yellow colour. The village is one of those increasingly rare places that appear almost untouched by the modern world; my grandparents didn’t get a television until I was in my late teens, so it seemed like a place from a different time, which was a nice respite from everything, a place where reading and quiet was treasured above all else. Occasionally a car would drive past the window, the only sense that there was another, uglier world outside the boundary of this little paradise.
I have many memories of that place, not all of them happy; one of my earliest memories is falling into the local stream when I was three. I think that might be the first thing I ever remember, just being sopping wet and cold, and then being sat by the fire to warm up back at Granny and Grandads. But apart from that, the rest were happy. Grandad had a workshop from his time as a hurdlemaker, which was like the cave of wonders to a group of small children, with its forbidden boxes of delights (screws, nails and other implements), tools of all shapes and sizes hanging from the walls, everything smelling like wood. I remember Granny reading us bedtime stories after our bath whilst Mum, Dad and Grandad were out at the evening meeting (and always being slightly disappointed when Mum stayed behind instead of Granny). I remember the amazing Sunday lunches sat in their little kitchen, which I can immediately transport myself back to when I close my eyes. So many of them are sensory, built on the sounds, sights and smells that acoompanied that place; the particular sound of their front gate opening and closing; the sound of the clock on the wall striking the hour; the smell of the fire and sensation of cold stone floor underfoot; the sight of all the quirky little trinkets dotted around the house that are so intriguing to the mind of a small child.
The Gospel is a message with a purpose. Jesus came to die on the cross, to take our place as a sacrifice for our sins. Defying the power of death itself, God raised him up from the dead after three days, and then he ascended to sit at Gods right hand. Christians around the world await his return to the Earth where God’s Kingdom will be established and we will live in God’s presence forever.
Christadelphians love to talk about God’s Kingdom. I’ve spent hours listening to people talk about it from the platform, mainly around the prophecies that might show us if its coming is soon. But rarely do we talk about what the Kingdom will actually be like. There are verses that give us some indication, like those in Revelation saying that there will be no more death or suffering, but very little that tells us what the actual experience of living in it will be like. Much of the Bible explores the Kingdom in terms of metaphor; even Jesus when talking about the Kingdom spoke in parables, such as saying the Kingdom is like a mustard seed or pearl of great price.
This was a topic that boggled our minds when I was a teenager (and to an extent still does now). There are just so many questions to be asked about what our lived experience will be if we get there. An example of one such question we often posed our beleaguered Sunday School teachers was about where we would live. Houses are meant for keeping you safe, warm and for sleeping in; but if there’s noting to attack you, or you don’t feel the cold or never get tired, what’s the point in the house?! The Kingdom just opens up too many questions that it begins to melt your brain a tiny bit.
Think of a wonderful thought
It was during one of these brain-melting conversations that my Aunty Jen came up with one of the best explanations of the Kingdom. I cant remember if she used the exact phrase or not, but she described what I will term in this article ‘little Kingdom moments’. The concept of the Kingdom is so sensational, so beyond our ability to imagine, that we have to find some different way of describing it. Jesus used metaphor, probably because he understood this too. It would be easier to liken the Kingdom to something the people listening to him would be able to comprehend, rather than tell them literally what it is like. For my Aunty, and now for myself, little Kingdom moments are perhaps the best way of doing so.
A little Kingdom moment is a memory. A really happy memory. Some fiction has used this idea to marvelous effect (although not related to a Biblical Kingdom); Peter Pan flies because he thinks of a wonderful thought, and in Harry Potter, the Patronus is a magical manifestation of a really powerful happy memory. But for our purposes, a little Kingdom moment is a memory that you can look back on and think that is what the Kingdom might be like. It grounds this abstract concept in a sense of reality, something you have experienced and can draw from, but at the same time knowing that whatever happiness you feel about that memory will be dwarfed by the happiness in the Kingdom.
For my Aunty, she said this was the memory of our garden teas. During the summer, we would often have a family reunion at my grandparents, where the children and grandchildren of my grandparents would come to visit them. If the weather was good, we would move the dining room table outside and eat dinner in the front garden. The table would be piled high with bread, cheese, salad, chutney, cold meats and other treats. The grown ups sat at the table or on benches whilst the younger children sat on the grass. I can remember teas like this, with the golden evening light dappling the lawn, or reflecting off the church, the sound of chatter and the occasional twitter of birds. Looking back it fills me with that warm feeling of nostalgia, that sense of home that you know you can never quite get back.
Just a feeling
Since that conversation, the little Kingdom moments have been the best guide for me as to why I remain a Christian. I am part of a church that has given me so many: the campfires at bunkhouse where we all sit around singing songs of praise (sometimes in tune); the late night conversations at peoples houses after a BBQ or a party, when the convo gets really deep and philosophical; those moments of chat with a friend where you feel like you’ve come away with a much better understanding of who that person is; the fits of laughter at some stupid joke when you can all barely look at each other or else it will all kick off again. But there are also smaller moments, like the look in someone’s eye when they are happy to see you, the contented sigh of a long-awaited hug, the reassuring squeeze of a hand in yours. They may be fleeting, but they are wonderful. And so many of them are based in fellowship! That’s what’s so amazing! Memories are rarely made on your own, as they are to be shared. Even if the thing that gave you the happy memories no longer exists or can happen, no one can ever take those memories away! I’m sure the first church back at the hall when we can all be back together will be a great Kingdom memory!
Its because of these memories that I cannot wait for the Kingdom to come. If I can be made this happy now, how much happier the Kingdom will be. But I hope if I get there, I will still be able to have the little Kingdom moments that sustained me along the way. Perhaps a garden tea with the grandparents would be nice.