(In the light of the tragedy in Paris, I'm always impressed how the scriptures we are given for the week speak to what we are experiencing. We will commend all who died using the prayers on page 499 in the Book of Common Prayer and also pray for peace using the prayer for Peace on page 815 in the Prayer Book.) John+
|The End of the World|
As we come to these final weeks of the church year, culminating withthe Feast of Christ the King and the biblical vision of the Second Coming of Christ, our attention turns to consider the "End of the World." This topic is always framed in what is called "apocalyptic" literature in the bible which is found in the Book of Daniel, the Book of Revelation, and in today's gospel Mark 13 and parallels in the other gospels. Not a great deal of coverage when you think of the bible taken as a whole, but this apocalyptic literature gets an inordinate amount of attention in bible studies, modern film and literature (best selling "Left Behind" series, etc.). If an evangelist wants to pack a church or stadium all he or she has to do is publicize that the topic is about what the bible says about the end of the world.
Remember Jim Jones and the suicidal pact his followers took and David Koresh and the Branch Davidians who were all killed in Waco, Texas? Jone's and Koresh's communities (and eventually died) around the apocalyptic texts of the bible. The Islamic State formed around a diesire to live out the strict, early days of Islam around the Prophet and the Sharia law. But they too focus on the apocalyptic elements in the Koran: the end of the world in an epic battle on the farm plains of a place called Dabiq near Mosul. Drawing the West into this battle would fulfill their apocaplyptic vision. If we realize this, how should we respond to them. What are the learnings from the Jones and Koresh tragedies?
The word "apocalyptic" means "unveiled." What attracts the most attention about the "unveiling" is that it purports to describe how God will return at the end. God's anger and judgment for sin is couched in violent imagery against the reprobate. The reprobate are always the "others," the enemy, and never includes those pointing the finger at the evildoers.
This all tends to be a bit embarassing for followers of Jesus when you consider that God in Jesus is revealed as Love. God is Love. A loving father might discipline or spank his children, but would never seek to destroy them- they are his children. But most think that is precisely what is being unveiled: the anger and harsh judgment of God against those who refused to believe in Him. But is this what is being "unveiled" in the literature: the coming crushing anger and death wielding power of God on all humankind sparing only those who "believed" in him (a mental act of belief or daily living out Jesus' example?)?
What if what is being "unveiled" in this literature is not God's violence against the unbeliever, but instead human violence itself: the cruelty and pain inflicted. between humans themselves and their scapegoats? The wars and rumors of war. A case in point: When we think of the end of the world and its total destruction by God, what about the doctrine of MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction? This doctrine has nothing to do with God, but has its origin entirely with human beings. If you seek to destroy us, we will assuredly destroy you.
Albert Schweitzer in the first half of the last century described Jesus as an "Apocalyptic Prophet." Of course this can play right into the thought that Jesus will return in anger and judgment at the end. But what if the description fits Jesus to a tee? Jesus is the one that clearly reveals, unveils, the complete useless dead end of human violence and invites people to a whole new identity through Holy Baptism, and the formation of an ever-expanding community of love fed with his own Body and Blood in Holy Communion? In other words, the Divine violence which most people have come to live with and expect (even in a Church that should know better!) has no inspired place in the whole Gospel!
Yes, Jesus can be described as a first century apocalyptic prophet, but what he clearly reveals as he hangs on the Cross, is that human beings are responsible for the terrors of the world in history all along and to the very end. It's always about human terror and never about divine terror. And unfortunately, the Church of Jesus itself has for centuries played into the thought and practice that "the Sword can and must preserve the perogatives of the Church" (or as we say civically, our deepest values, like freedom,etc.). This kind of thinking perdures in much of the church (and other religions as well), but I think our present Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis are on the same wavelength to guide us in a different direction: to use the teaching and example of Jesus in the Gospel to disarm the powers of "sacred violence" (violence done in the Name of God or with God's approval) and point us to reclaim our Baptismal Identity. What's more, sacred violence cannot be defeated by violent means-more violence. It just doesn't work. Humanists optimistically think that people can bring an end to violence on our own. But God's answer in Jesus is that only by being instruments of mercy, forgiveness, and courageous holiness can the powers and principalities of violence in the world burn themselves out. The key is to deny fuel to the fires of violence. Over and over we refuse to do this out of fear, mostly of economic loss.
The end is near. Jesus is coming. The Holy Spirit is guiding. Violence is being revealed for what it is: nothing that God wants or supports. The Apocaplypse will unveil the Victory of Christ. This is the Good News. Think about what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews last Sunday:
Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
So we lift up our hearts. Celebrate our Baptismal identity in Jesus, and with this Holy Eucharist keep his hope and love alive in the world.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)
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