Imagine a wide wild garden, sweeping lawns edged by banked flowers, azaleas and showy rhododendrons covered in pastel flowers, then behind them the deep green of billowing oaks and at the back, tall dark conifers, like spears shooting into the wide blue sky. White clouds adorn this sky, and never move. All is completely still and perfect, and at the very centre of the garden an icing sugar gazebo, scalloped and trellised and topped with a fancy tiled roof and cupola, as if drawn by Walt Disney or Capability Brown. Or even Mad King Ludwig. It is a very pastiche of a great garden, a veritable blueprint for a future project, for every great and future garden.
And seated within the perfect gazebo on huge soft cushions is a group of beautiful golden young people, clad in floating, trailing robes, their long, curling hair carelessly bound up with silken cords of Pre-Raphaelite magnificence. As they lean forward you can see their vestigial wings, lying soft and pleated down their backs. They rustle from time to time, when emotions run high. This should not happen in The Kingdom. This is a place of everlasting peace and worship, where every problem has been solved or has never existed, every emotion rationalised and under control. They are looking down now, down into a great swimming magnifying glass set in the floor of the gazebo, as if into the sea from a glass-bottomed boat. Now and then they gasp, look away as if the object of their gaze is all too much, flushed and disturbed.
"Look at him," one says, "He is so dark and sweaty now, and his hair is all tangled." She has a mild frown on her pale unlined brow. And they focus once more on the giant lens. There is their friend, like a bread crumb being pulled and tugged back and forth by a swarm of ants, brown Earth people waving palm branches. His face is tanned, polarized in harsh desert sunlight, and laughing with the love of these fiery people. He bends from his mount, a small wiry donkey, and touches outstretched hands with love. "Imagine that, a donkey," someone says with a stifled laugh. Donkeys belong to the lower orders of animals here, like goats and rats and pigs.
"Why has he left us?" someone asks. "He found a prophecy in an old manuscript in the library, and wanted to test it out," someone else replies. A collective sigh goes round the gazebo.
Their friend was known for his interest in archaeology, always poring over old maps, parchments and artifacts.
And now there he is embedded on Earth, third planet from Sun, in The Milky Way galaxy, a new development in Father's plans for a larger and more impressive Universe. He swelters in the shimmering heat of the desert. His donkey trudges along on tiptoe hooves on the rocky road, dust coming up from his heels, and his head, covered with a coarsely woven cloth, spins and throbs with the roars of the adoring crowd. Heaven was not like this. All was calm and tranquil, and the sun was a comfortable illusion.
He can see in his peripheral vision armoured men on big horses, sitting still and watchful in their plumed helmets and red cloaks. They watch the people carefully for known troublemakers, and he has become one. He never realised that a simple request to leave The Kingdom temporarily would result in this uncomfortable yet exhilarating experience. He talks to growing crowds of interested people, dazzling them with simple tricks. In The Kingdom these would pass unnoticed, for in Eternity the angels never die, never fall ill, and the wine never runs out at weddings. It is a matter of directing a pulse of immortal energy onto the dying, the blind and disabled, and the boring water suddenly runs red and acid like a good home-made wine at any respectable wedding.
He tries to convey to them the peaceful nature of Heaven, where no violence is ever necessary. In a land where feuds go on for centuries he tells them to let it go, turn the other cheek, forgive your enemies, and reminds them that gentle folk will inherit the Earth, and that people who stop others from fighting will go to Heaven when they die. He promises them that if they believe in what he says they will have a great afterlife as well.
And their reactions are amazing. His jaded and unused angel heart is touched, and swells with an unfamiliar feeling. He feels needed for the first time, and idolised, a dangerous feeling, for now it has attracted the attentions of the priests and the Romans.
As he disappears under the towering walls of Jerusalem and is lost to the sight of his friends at the great glass, they turn away, bored, and take up their harps and dulcimers to while away the eternal hours.
The Father has turned on the sunset display, and sits on a lounger, remote in hand, and a string quartet directed by Vivaldi himself is playing some glorious Baroque.
This is the only way He can break up Eternity, by dividing the long golden hours into day and night, with spectacular sunrises and sunsets programmed into his celestial computer. He is proud of the way He has engineered these phenomena on Earth to be self-generating, a simple matter of making Earth rotate with the Universe, and revels in the enjoyment of the inhabitants, as they sit on beaches and mountaintops with their cameras recording his handiwork. Soon he will fade the sunset down, and brighten up the stars and moon on the backdrop.
But the next day when the angels return to the gazebo they are alarmed to see their friend bound and bleeding in a stone courtyard. His robe has been torn away and his back is bleeding from countless weals. A thorny crown has been wedged down on his forehead and he staggers with unaccustomed fatigue and pain. This is carrying things too far, and his friends clutch each other in anguish and pity.
Why has he let this go so far, they ask, and how will he escape. The soldiers are pitiless, and tower over his broken body. They would not comprehend his true identity even though he has told them that he is the Son of an extra-terrestrial God. When he is accused of fomenting revolution against the Romans he replies in a voice tight and breathless with pain, "My kingdom is not of this world." Even the priests in their heavy jewelled robes and the governor in his purple hemmed toga have rejected his claims, because he refuses to perform parlour tricks for them.
Now the perfect people in the gazebo in the garden in the perfect kingdom cannot tear their eyes away from the screen. This is compulsive viewing. He is dragged out and a heavy wooden cross placed on his shoulders for the most inhumane and lingering of executions. Slowly the procession makes its way up the hill outside town, for the putting to death by crucifixion of Jesus and two other men.
They gasp and sob as their friend stumbles often, and a tall black man from North Africa on the side of the road steps forward and helps him to carry his cross. "I am Simon of Cyrene," he says to the bloody man blind with pain and exhaustion. "Let me help you."
At the end of a merciless day Jesus is left hanging nailed to his cross. His followers cluster around the foot of the cross supporting his earthly mother, Mary, and the clouds grow dark. In his anguish he fears that his Father has abandoned him. Surely He could see what is happening. At last he gasps, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit, oh Lord," and his battered head hangs lifeless.
A huge wind springs up and whirls across the city, tearing the curtains in the temple. It is horrifying for his heavenly friends to see the crumpled body hanging there, pierced by the nails, but then he is taken down and wrapped in white linen by his followers on Earth.
The body is carried tenderly to a cave outside town, and left there on a slab of cool stone. And as we on Earth know by now, when the women come to visit his tomb three days after, he is gone, risen again, and only his spirit remains for a while to greet them. It has been a self-fulfilling experience, gleaned from the pages of an ancient manuscript.
He comes back to The Kingdom after forty days, their friend, to much joy and relief. His wounded body is restored to blond perfection and The King commends him for his work below, although secretly wondering at his Son's daring.
The angels welcome him home to their cool, beautiful surroundings with much concern and admiration for a while, looking for the scars on his hands, and questioning him curiously, but then turn back to their music and gentle games again, their heavenly minds quite content.
Over the millennia they check life on Earth through the giant spyglass in the gazebo floor from time to time, and are amazed to see that their friend still figures as a hugely popular cargo cult two thousand years on, despite having taught down there for only three short years. The primitive people down there yearn for him to return, in spite of their wars and crime, and huge soaring stone buildings are erected in his memory. Kings and Popes cause stained glass windows and murals to show his life and death, surrounded by his mother Mary, and his apostles. Father has even ordered an extension on his palace to be built in the style of a Gothic cathedral, admiring the style and grandeur.
Sitting in the archives again, his favourite place to meditate, and coming to Revelations written by John, one of his earthly friends, Jesus thinks, Oh no, another prophecy to fulfill, and I will have to return with the whole orchestra in clouds of glory this time...it doesn't bear thinking about. Timing will be all, and it will be impressively apocalyptic, done well.
Father by now is working on another project, a world in a faraway galaxy where his creatures will not be so vicious, so fragile, and not so prone to disease and pain. Better ball and socket joints, he thinks, quieter personalities, and makes a note. He has Beethoven playing a sonata for him as he nods majestically on his lounger, and leaves his son to make his own adjustments to life back home. He has all the time in The Universe.
And forever after the angels notice that their returned friend has a bemused and sad look that flits across his face from time to time, a feeling in his modified human heart that he misses the gritty friendships and love below on Earth, despite the pain and the terror and the daily grind of heat and dust and hunger. He misses the rough hands, the loud voices raised in argument, and the beautiful girls with their dark eyes. He finds it boring being perfect, misses being human and all it entails.
Not quite the end...