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Friday, 23 June 2017

Day 23: Our Citizenship is in Heaven


Art by www,wallandheart.com


Our citizenship is in heaven.
Philippians 3:20


I grew up in Africa.

We returned to the UK when I was 12, and having arrived in July, I started at a local comprehensive school in September. It was unusual for people to start in Year 8 (high school begins in Year 7), but as a transfer from Kenya, I was especially strange. During my first two years, I felt very different. In case I might forget I was different, I had plenty of fellow pupils eager to remind me, on a regular basis, of where I was from: "oh you're the girl from Sweden!"; "you're from Canada"; or my all time favourite, "you're from Saudi Africa!" Long before Mean Girls was a twinkle in Lindsay Lohan's eye (was she even born in '97? I don't dare look it up!)  I was informed that I could not have grown up in Africa because I wasn't black.

This laid the foundation for me feeling like an outsider.

I haven't managed to shake the feeling, but I've come to realise that very few people can: deep down there seems to be this indefatigable angst within us that we're excluded, that we don't fit, that we are on the outside. We may put this down to our upbringing, our strange accent, our education, our appearance, our relationship status, our problems; I know that I attribute my feeling on the outside to these factors and more.

Recently I've been struck by how deep my desire to belong is; it's an ache that seems to go back to the beginning of time. The longings of my heart testify: where the foundations of humanity were laid there could have been security and citizenship, but instead there was an exile and an exclusion.

My deep feelings of isolation, no doubt exacerbated by having grown up abroad, come from something far more fundamental: by nature, I deserve to be an outsider. Yes, I long for security and peace, I long for companionship, for leadership that I can trust, for intimate relationships, for a place to call home.

But by nature, I'm an outsider. By nature, I'm excluded from the one place I was created to belong.

And I'm rightfully excluded: I know what it is to turn my back on Love, to destroy the good gifts in my life, to be blind and arrogant in the pursuit of pleasure and independence. I know what it is to have the sweet taste of greedily consumed fruit turn bitter in my mouth, what it is to feel the deep sting of shame, to have to hide from the pure glare of truth, of justice. There is a barrier between me and belonging that I cannot overcome: I've been given the perverted ruler I asked for (myself) and the way back to a better kingdom is shut: the flaming sword of justice in the hands of the cherubim guard the way.

And yet, somehow, my citizenship is in heaven.

By nature I am an outsider, by Christ I am included.

Hallelujah, that though the way for me was shut, heaven did not remain closed!
Hallelujah, that it opened for the ultimate citizen of heaven, for Heaven's Beloved!
Hallelujah that He gave up the glory, comfort and security that was His, that he laid it all down, that he came to me, on the outside.
Hallelujah! He brings sinners home! He makes the exiled citizens!
Hallelujah! By nature I am an outsider, by Christ I am included.

Our citizenship is in heaven because Heaven's Beloved was born, lived and died an outsider.

He was rejected by those who he created, he was misunderstood by his family, he was betrayed by his friends,  he was mocked by the leaders of the faith he was the cornerstone of, he was unjustly punished by a government he had ultimate power over, he suffered in complete isolation and died the most shameful death imaginable: on a cross, outside of the city. He was cut off from companionship, from welcome, from life; he died with every possible door shut in his face.

Jesus, who had embraced the warm love of heaven that I spurned, was excluded from the presence of God so that I might be welcomed in. In my place, the Beloved marched up to the flaming sword of justice that guarded the way to my ever being allowed true citizenship with the Father; it fell on him so that it would not fall on me.

Our citizenship is in heavevn because when he died, the curtain in the temple, ornately decorated with Eden's cherubim, was torn open, from top to bottom: the Father, through Jesus, threw down a welcome mat, ran to meet me, and welcomed me home.

"Our citizenship is in heaven, and we await a Saviour from there."

This Saviour is Heaven's beloved: he brought me to his banqueting table, and his banner over me is love.

The Beloved of Heaven has made me beloved in Him. Whatever pangs of isolation and exclusion I may feel now, however fragile and elusive citizenship may seem, there is deep joy and hope in knowing that from the ultimate city, the city that is to come, the city that cannot be shaken I will never be excluded. 

Heaven's Beloved bore my isolation and exile, He has made a way for me, He is preparing a place for me, and He will welcome me home. 

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