Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The new Robin Hood movie is out soon. The story has such power that it gets re-told in every generation - Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner and now Russell Crowe.

Maybe the story has such power because it appeals to something deep within - a desire for things to be different.  The legend is well known – Robin Hood steals from the rich to give to the poor, lives in Sherwood Forest with the merry men and Maid Marian, and regularly manages to annoy the Sheriff of Nottingham. What relationship the story bears to historical reality is hard to tell. However, the context in which the story is usually set is significant. In the twelfth century England’s rightful king, Richard, had left the country to fight in the Crusades. In his absence, his brother Prince John had set himself up as king in his place. Not content with this, John had also inflicted heavy taxation on and curtailed the hunting rights of the peasants, who were already kept firmly in their place by a strict feudal system.

Robin Hood was the leader of a kind of resistance movement that refused to accept the rule of ‘King’ John,
and kept alive the hope of the return of the true king, Richard. When news began to filter through to England that King Richard was on his way home, and had in fact landed, Robin Hood and his followers began to whisper the news around to their fellow countrymen, who had by now given up hope, that the true king had not forgotten them, and that things were one day going to be different. For a while they still had to live under uncertainty and even oppression until ‘King’ John was finally defeated, but the news was out, and nothing could keep them quiet.

Robin Hood’s band of resistance fighters is a surprising, but not a bad image for the Church in the world today. They live under an oppressive regime, but have a sense of joy and lightness because they know that the present system is not the last word. They know that the true king is coming, and that things will one day be different. From time to time, they still remind the false powers that their rule is temporary and bogus, by acts of rebellion that recall the true king. They also whisper around the good news that things don’t have to be like this. The king is coming, in fact he has already landed, and we can happily defy the current powers and live instead under the laws and rule of the true proper king. It sometimes means they are out of step with others who haven't heard and think the current regime is all there is, but it's a much lighter, more positive way to live - looking forward to the day when all will be different and the usurper will be de-throned.

Political change can make a temporary and minor difference, but ultimately only divine action can bring in an entirely new realm. Christians are those who have heard news that there is another king, another kingdom, under whose rule things are very different. And this is the big story – the kingdom has come, in Jesus Christ. The king has arrived and if you look hard enough, you can see signs around that things are becoming different.

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