O day of peace that dimly shines, through all our hopes and prayers and dreams. Guide us to justice, truth and love, delivered from our selfish schemes. May swords of hate fall from our hands, our hearts from envy find release, till by God’s grace our warring world shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.-Hymn 597, Hymnal 1982
It is better to rely on the Lord than to put any trust in flesh. It is better to rely on the Lord than to put any trust in rulers.-Psalm 118:8,9
Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
When you expect the world to end at any moment, you know there is no need to hurry. You take your time, you do your work well.
Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
I was talking with a wise friend last week. She noted that a number of her friends had commented on the beautiful weather we’ve been having here in North Carolina. It has indeed been stunning. But she wondered: Is it distinctively so? Maybe it’s always been this nice. Maybe we just didn’t notice.
That same day, I heard a radio interview with a religious scholar about the times in which we live. He was not a person in the stream of Christian thought, but he referred to apocalypse, a persistent theme in the Judeo-Christian tradition. I don’t know what associations you have with the word. First thing that comes to mind for me is absolute destruction, the end of the world, movies with things blowing up, space ships destroying cities, nuclear devastation, climate reigning terror in floods or hurricanes or fires. That’s obviously a big part of what the word apocalyptic means.
This religious scholar reminded me that the word comes from the Greek apokalyptein, which means to uncover, reveal. Break the word down: apo (off, away from) and kalyptein (to cover, conceal). It’s why the last book of the Bible is referred to as either the Revelation of John or the Apocalypse of John. There’s a sense in which an apocalypse suggests the pulling back of a theater curtain to see something new, to see the action. There’s a whole body of writing in the Bible that is referred to as apocalyptic literature, showing us something we hadn’t seen before, revealing truth that can be scary but can also bring hope for days ahead.
All this may be more than you want to tackle early on a Monday morning, but stay with me. I’ve been thinking of the Easter sermons I’ve heard in recent weeks. As I shelter in place, my inner church-geek surfaces so that I’ve listened to sermons and teachings from all kinds of churches. A few questions have come through repeatedly: How was the resurrected Jesus revealed to folks? What did it mean to see him? What did it mean to recognize him? Were they the same thing? How did folks come to discover that his presence has been with him all along? How was he apocalypsed?
Surely, there is doom and gloom associated with apocalypse. These days, so many in our world face that doom and gloom due to the current health crisis. People near and far are going through hell, experiencing first hand the familiar understanding of the word apocalypse. More lies ahead. Lord, have mercy. We are called to pray for them, with them, in word and action.
But another thing is happening. People are discovering holy presence in new ways, in the midst of the challenge. That presence is being revealed. It is being apocalypsed. I’ve seen it in simple things: Basic kindness in traffic or at grocery stores. We’ve become a lab for love of neighbor. Families dining together, putting down phones and actually conversing. Watching Sunday church together over pancakes. Gardens tended, celebrating beauty. Prayer as one of many spiritual practices bringing sustenance. An admission of a hunger for community. A recognition of love of liturgy.
Casting a broader vision, we see the courage (bravery + heart) of health care workers, retired doctors heroically running towards the epicenter from all over the country, like firemen running towards burning building, reckless generosity of funds. All of it is a revelation of what is important and what is not. I’m wondering what is being revealed to you in this time.
These days, there’s talk of going back to the way things were, to normal, whatever that was. My guess is that will not happen. Perhaps it shouldn’t. Biblical apocalyptic visions speak of a new heaven and a new earth, tears wiped away, lion and lamb living in peaceable kingdom, neither a child nor an old person victim of illness. Perhaps, without knowing exactly what that will look like, we can move towards that new life and find it a place where equity and compassion, service and community, faith and love become more real. Are you ready for that to happen? How might you be part of it this week?
What are you noticing these days? What is being revealed? What are you expecting in these apocalyptic times?