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One of the songs I remember hearing in my house growing up was ‘From a Distance’ by Nancy Griffith. It was also a hit for Bette Midler in 1990. I’ve just asked our Cathedral office staff if they know it, and they said of course, apparently favouring Bette Midler’s version. So it does seem like it’s pretty well known. The lyrics seem to be aimed at giving hope by giving a panned out vision of a world that is in harmony and where there is no disease, hunger and war. It’s maybe about having God’s perspective on the difficulties in the world. It also might be getting at a time when the Kingdom of God is fully realised when Christ returns
God is watching us from a distance
From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I can’t comprehend
What all this war is for
The Book of revelation talks about the City of God which comes down from Heaven and contains a tree that’s ‘leaves are for the healing of the nations.’ These are words that give us hope about a future reality. But Christian hope isn’t only based on a future vision of reconciliation. ‘From a distance’ suggests that God is far off. This isn’t the story of God we hear in the Gospels. The first chapter of John describes the ‘Word made flesh’ living among us. Not a God in a distant land, but a God made flesh, incarnating in the human flesh all that God is.
This Lent season the Church focuses on the consequence of the Word made flesh. How human life is precious and full of dignity. As we read and watch the news in Ukraine, we might be tempted to think of God as distant, that the best we can do is look to the hope of a distant reality. If we focus on headlines, it is easy to be disheartened, with power structures failing to respect human life and dignity. But we also hear stories on the ground of how neighbours are helping each other, how refugees are being welcomed in Poland and the work of the Red Cross, amongst other organisations, helping people in need. God is at work in world. The Word made flesh lived among us and suffered at the hands of state violence and stands in solidarity with those who experience similar today.
The Church is called to carry on the healing work of Christ, who came near, by being filled with the Spirit and to proclaim that God is not far off and stands with those who are suffering and challenges injustice now, not to just wait for a future reality.
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