Just a few miles off the coast from Cape Town Robben Island has a history that is almost exclusively bound up with incarceration. A little like the better known Alcatraz, it has for centuries been seen as the ideal place to send the undesired, knowing that they cannot hope to escape from an island surrounded with ferocious waters. So rebels, lepers and the insane were thrown out of society. The last batch were the anti Apartheid campaigners.
The bus trip around the island takes you to the Lime Stone Quarry where they brought Nelson Mandela and his friends to do tedious and meaningless work in the South African heat while being painfully blinded by the glare of that sun reflected off the limestone. It was a brutal regime.
Yet, mysteriously, it oozes joy and hope, which is strange, but I guess it’s something to do with a sense that you’re are walking on redeemed ground. Mandela and his comrades freedom against all the odds gives hope for others hoping for freedom.
On one trip, a former prisoner told us that in that limestone quarry the older prisoners were teaching the younger ones to read and write, multiply and divide, and think political thoughts. “Why?” someone asked. “We were getting ready for freedom before freedom came.” That sentence has fired my imagination ever since.
I do not think it is too contrived for me to make a comparison between those captives on Robben Island and those of us daring to follow Jesus. Jesus asked his followers to pray, in what has become known as The Lord’s Prayer, that God’s Kingdom would come... on earth as in heaven.
In Lent we are heading towards the season of the Church year where we remember Jesus death and resurrection. These events are huge interrupting events in the breaking in of the Kingdom. God's plan of redemption is going into turbo charge. As Christians prepare for those seismic moments we often give things up. It has become an annual season of giving up chocolate or crisps, coffee or even Facebook.
Perhaps a better way is take a front foot. Maybe we should be getting ready for the Kingdom before the Kingdom comes by doing Kingdom things.
Let me do an action that loves neighbour and enemy. Let me do an action that seeks out and finds Jesus among the marginalised. Let me make myself, who my fallen nature has a default position of putting first, last and the person I judge as last, first. Let me me love others as I would wish to be loved. Let me seek God first and not worry about all that stuff that has the world at war and individuals in therapy. Let me not just hear Jesus words but be a like a wise man who builds his house on a rock by doing them.
We now live in the space between redemption won and the final fulfilment of God's will being done on earth. Getting ready for the Kingdom before the Kingdom comes. Now that is a fantastic spiritual exercise for Lent. Wonderful preparation!