My sermon for this week was based on Luke 21:25-36.
To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.
Apocalypticism is not something that is current theology in most Catholic and Protestant churches. For most of us, the Apocalypse, the Rapture and/or Armageddon is simply not something that falls on our radar.
Why this is, I don't know. Judaism in Jesus' time was apocalyptic, early Christianity certainly was and Jesus himself was arguably apocalyptic.
But part of the problem is that the concept of the Apocalypse is largely misunderstood, maybe because a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation makes for great movies, and fear can be a great motivation to adhere to a religion.
The Apocalypse has largely been portrayed as a terrible event in which God's wrath is unleashed upon the entire world, and one part of the human race is spared because they are righteous, and the other part suffers because they are wicked. The righteous get whisked away to live with God, the story goes, and the wicked are left on earth to burn. That doesn't sound like Gospel at all, except if you are among the righteous, and I think most clear and humble thinkers realize how exceptionally rare true righteousness truly is.
My own opinion is that this is a travesty of what Christ's message was all about. Any way you try to cut it, the Apocalypse as it is so often represented by popular entertainment and fundamentalist Christianity represents a wholesale pouring out of all God's anger, hatred and wrath upon the earth.
Any sane reading of the word of Christ would have to come to the conclusion that it is actually a wholesale pouring out of God's love, compassion and peace upon the whole world.
We all put our emphasis on different places when we read Scripture or reflect on the Christian story. That can be a great thing, but it can also be bad because some people focus morbidly on the Crucifixion rather than the Resurrection message, and some people focus morbidly on the the burning of the wicked, rather than the world that is to come after.
Of course there is no way to be sure, but even though Jesus seems to have been apocalyptic, I don't think this was his was the burning kind of apocalypse, and I think I have Scripture to back me up. I think the Bible tells us where we ought to be putting the emphasis of our apocalypse.
For example, if most of us were to hear of a coming apocalypse, I think our natural reaction would be to run and hide, to find shelter from the coming whatever. But when Jesus speaks of the trials that will beset his followers, he says "stand up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing near".
He goes on to tell a parable of a fig tree, saying that "as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near".
Coming redemption, summer and the kingdom of God are very positive images, don't you think? These are images of verdancy, of fruitfulness, of joy. If the apocalypse was something to be feared, don't you think Jesus would have used images of winter, desolation or destruction?
Here's the thing: I am not a believer in a Biblical apocalypse, but I have certainly been through a few personal apocalypses in my lifetime, and I'm sure you have too. Whether it is the breakup of a marriage, the loss of a job or the death of a loved one, most of us have probably felt the bottom fall out of our worlds at one point or another.
I don't want to sound flip or dismiss anyone's pain, least of all my own, but hindsight demonstrates to us that there is in fact life on the other side of these apocalypses. As I delivered this sermon last Sunday, we were all fed, clothed and seated in a nice warm church. We were likely all headed to comfortable homes afterwards. That day, we were doing ok. There is light to be had on the other side of darkness. There is joy to be had on the other side of sadness.
Put another way, natural disaster occur in the world. I do not think for one second that God causes any of these things to happen, but I do think God can be situated in how we react to these situation. For example, every time there is a flood or earthquake or tsunami, there are people who loot, steal and hoard and there are others who take in strangers, share food and provisions. My belief is that God is present in the latter and absent in the former. When an apocalypse occurs, we have the choice to be overwhelmed by it and to seek only our own salvation from it, or we have the choice to work within it, to come together and to overcome it.
Christians are (or at least ought to be IMHO) a people of life and hope, not a people of death and sadness. The Christian story is one overcoming adversity, supporting each other and reaching out to try to heal the broken in this world.
If you are going through a time of pain or your own personal apocalypse, please remember that there is always hope and support out there, and that sometimes you are the hope and support for others.