Saturday, July 7, 2012

Saturday in Pentecost 8: Hope amdist the hype

Opening Sentence
Thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, "I dwell in the high and holy place and also with the one who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite." Isaiah 57:15

Collect of the Day
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

When Christians speak of the “eschatological hope,” they mean precisely what the term implies. The “last word” is a word of hope. It speaks of a world to come which is infinitely more glorious than the world that now is. Sickness and sorrow, pain and death will be no more. The incarnate Word himself, Jesus Christ, will reign in all his glory as King of kings and Lord of lords, his royal presence (parousia) being the centerpiece of God’s new creation.

Sensationalism, however, has long been one of the more embarrassing excesses of Christian eschatology. Two world wars, the rise of the Soviet Union, and the present concern over Islamic terrorism have all been seen as indications of the imminent end of history. It is easy to paint a very grim picture by taking particular apocalyptic texts from Scripture out of their literary and historical context and transposing them across two millennia to be arbitrarily applied to current world events. Jesus did indeed speak of “wars and rumors of wars,” of nation rising against nation “and kingdom against kingdom,” of “famines and earthquakes in various places” (cf. Matthew 24:6-7). He also said most emphatically, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Matthew 24:34)." 

Jesus was speaking specifically about events which were to take place within roughly forty years following his death and resurrection, culminating with the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans. Moreover, he was drawing a parallel between the ordeal his first disciples would have to endure during that period with his own ordeal of suffering, death, and resurrection which he was about to endure.

Any attempt to read into current events a parallel with the ordeal of the first century church cannot overlook the singular event which gave those first disciples the hope and the courage to endure in the face of relentless persecution. That singular event was, and is, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For in the crucified and risen Christ is embodied the “end” toward which all of history is moving. God’s “last word” is not destruction and death, but redemption and life. As Christ endured suffering before entering into glory, so must all who would share with him in that glory. Paul even goes so far as to say, in today's epistle reading, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22).

Earthquakes and famines, wars and rumors of wars, suffering and painful sorrow are not the end of the world. Jesus, in fact, said such things “are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:8). They are reminders that we live in the midst of a creation out of sync with God’s purpose, longing to “be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). While such events do remind us that “the end is near,” they ought not inspire fear. For “the end” is Christ himself, and in Christ is embodied not the death of humanity, but humanity raised to the fullness of life; not the destruction of creation, but creation redeemed out of its bondage to reflect once again that glory which was “in the beginning.”


Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken