Sunday, May 09, 2010

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Revelations 22
1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

John 14
25"All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
28"You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

In Armageddon (1998), the team charged with destroying the giant meteorite and saving planet Earth suffers yet another setback. A scene later, Paris is destroyed.

In G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra (2009), evildoers with British accents develop nano-technology capable of laying waste to entire cities. Mayhem begins in Paris, as the nanomites eat the Eiffel Tower.

In the marionette classic Team America: World Police (2004), the team is dispatched to Paris to thwart a group of terrorists. The team wins the day, but not without destroying the Eiffel Tower (which then collapses the Arc de Triomphe) and the Louvre.

If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be don’t move to Paris. I’m not even sure if it’s safe to visit. And if your gift for mom today is a trip to Paris, I would have to ask ‘what were you thinking?’ In fiction, at least, it is not a safe place. Eveildoers, aliens, meteors, nanomites: these threats are real.

To quote Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: "It looks like the storm is following an unusual pattern of hitting the world's most famous landmarks first, then spreading to the rest of the world."

“Monumental Damage,” as some have called this trope, is really a kind of cinematic shorthand for ‘something serious is happening,’ perhaps the end of the world as we know it. When the Libby loses her head or aliens zap the White House, you know it may be the end of all things. And if the viewers remain unconvinced, we’ll always have Paris…


The Book of Revelation is a tough read. Some wonder why it is there are all, and some wonder why it has such lasting appeal. It takes the prize as the least understood book in the Bible, and among mainline Protestants, the least read.

First things first: Back in minister’s school, we were taught that every part of the Bible has meaning, even if that meaning seems hidden or hard to discern. The Bible is scripture, meaning it has authority for our life together as believers. Our task, we were told, is to find the meaning and share it in moments such as this. In other words, we must resist the temptation to omit the final book of the Bible or ignore it all together. We have to live with it.

So maybe the place to begin is a bit of a summary:

John has visions.
And sends messages to the seven churches:
Mostly he says “I know where you live.”
In John’s vision, we read the following:
The Lamb breaks seven seals bringing tribulation.
The Angels sound seven trumpets and bad stuff happens.
The Angels pour out their Bowls: total darkness and great pain.
Babylon, like Paris is destroyed.
1000 year reign of Christ
Satan returns, suffers defeat, cast into the Lake of Fire.
The New Heaven and New Earth.

If you were listening for anything familiar, chances are it was only the final line of my summary, the ‘new heaven and new earth’ that rang a bell. When we do look at the book, on the rare occasion we hear it read aloud, it tends to be the end of the story, the heavenly vision that makes up the last two chapters. The rest of it we have surrendered to the churches that look forward to the end of the world, or the people who are looking for the devil’s area code in every string of numbers.

We like to go to the pleasant ending, John’s vision of a world made new, and forget the rest. But if books and movies teach us anything, it is that the world has other ideas. A trip to the cineplex shows us an abiding interest in the stuff before the pleasant ending, not because people have it in for Paris, but because ‘world-ending’ ideas have currency in our experience.

A disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, economic collapse in Greece, volcanic eruptions continue: there has been so much news in the last week that the people of Nashville could rightly complain that they were being overlooked. The floods were terrible, but the other news items had that ‘world-ending’ quality that grabs the headlines and refuses to let go.

Maybe it is the age we live in. In this post 9-11 world, we seem to always be on the cusp of disaster, certainly much more than I recall in the innocent times before. In the period between the end of Communism in 1989 and 2001 people spoke of the ‘end of history’ and the beginning of some new age. But it was not to be. Our ‘world-ending’ urges returned, and we went back to living on the edge of the abyss.

So we are left with a conundrum. Are we always on the cusp of some ‘world-ending’ disaster, or are we just wired to see the world in this way? Yes and no.

If you ask people, they will identify that we live in troubled times. We experience more change that the generations before us. Kids respect their parents less than ever, Crime has never been worse. Times are hard. What is wrong with people today? The problem with these statements, is that every generation has said them.

Every generation assumes that things are in some sort of decline, that kids are ruder and people care less about their neighbours. But logic tells us that this can’t possible be so. And the facts don’t bear it our either. The crime rate in Canada has been dropping since the 1970’s, but in our minds, it has never been worse. ‘Worse than ever’ is not a reality, it is a state of mind, one that has existed as long as we have.

Revelations is nothing more than an extension of this. Part of the context is the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the 9-11-like disaster that reverberated throughout the Jewish faith, Jewish Christians included. Part of the context was the endless conquest that happened in a land that was always on the way to somewhere else, and suffered from every passing army. But part of it was that same ‘world-ending’ theme, that sense that the age was unique and the struggles represented something final.

Now, having downplayed the disasters in Revelation and having questioned the extent to which our age is unique, I would be remiss not to note that our age is unique. Despite the skeptics, despite the snow last night, we do face a unique challenge in our age. And if the threat of global warming isn’t enough to change our habits of consumption, I hope the threat of 800,000 litres of crude leaking into the Gulf everyday is. This is one case where I hope ‘world-ending’ feels real enough to change out ways.

Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus speaks to his disciples at a moment that is ‘world-ending’ for them, the time before his passion. What he says, in effect, is this: ‘The world will grant you no peace. Every age will seem like the last, and every crisis will seem larger than the last. This is part of the human way. But do not despair: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I am with you in the midst of the struggle, I am with you to the end of the age. In my presence you must not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’

Later on, when someone asks you about Mother’s Day at Central, you can tell them that the preacher said the world is ending and don’t take you mother to Paris. Or you can tell them that the idea that the world is ending is as old as the world itself. Or you can tell then that Christ is the only constant in the midst of worry and strife, and the Easter message of new life is the only message we need. “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”


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