I went to the theatre the other night with some of my family to see a production of Animal Farm. It was performed by a local drama club and they were great.
Now, you’re probably aware that the play, as the film, is based on a novella of the same name by George Orwell and that it is about a group of farm animals who have had enough of seeing the produce of their labour being used or enjoyed or sold for the pleasure of others, and they decide to do something about it.
According to Orwell, the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution in 1917 and beyond, well into the Stalin era in the USSR.
One of the things that Communism taught was that religion and the State collaborated, or it might be more correct to say that the ruling classes used religion to subdue the masses.
In this regard I often quote a verse in the hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, thankfully now removed.
Here it is: The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate. God made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate.
In other words, if you are poor, God has ordained it to be so and you should be content.
That theme came across very well in the play. One of the animals, a pig named Squealer who is said to represent Vyacheslav Molotov, one of Stalin’s protégées, was in verbal conflict with some of the other animals one day.
‘There is no heaven!’ he screamed. ‘This is all there is! There is no sweet bye and bye!’ and he went on to explain the Communist argument that religion had been used by the ruling class to hoodwink the great unwashed by telling them that everything will be equalled after death.
So, if they continue to work hard for the good of society their reward in heaven will be great.
I suppose to varying extents we have all believed that; heaven will be wonderful, so that when the going gets tough in life the promise of heaven is the great distraction, as Richard Rohr says, Christians have all too often pushed heaven into the future.
But the problem with all of that is this; if we walk through life, always looking to the future, we so easily miss the joys that can be experienced in the now.
So while I am not saying that there’s no heaven, I am saying quite the contrary, we can and should be walking daily with the Master, enjoying days of heaven on earth.
And I am, perhaps naive enough to believe that it can be that way.
Think for a moment of the Great High Priestly Prayer of Jesus just hours before he was crucified when he promised, ‘When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.’
Days of heaven on earth? Is it possible?
Yes, I believe it is, because the nature of this relationship between Father, Son and us can be described as a relationship of rest.
That’s how Jesus could promise, ‘I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart.
“And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.’
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