Let’s not reduce the apocalyptic voice from the ‘naughts’ to one crazy guy in a cave near Cyprus, ‘St John the Divine’, writing on the Isle of Patmos. Each of the heretics like us in this first week shared an apocalyptic faith, in communities struggling with ‘forces of good and evil in crisis’ like us.
Axial artists expressed and informed the tension between what was, and what they imagined divine purpose and promise to be in relation to humans. Romans said ‘Caesar is Lord’, and Roman rule rocks. Heretics like us said ‘Jesus is Lord’, or ‘the reign of God is like something different’.
"God, comma... God is still speaking" is a slogan of our sister denomination UCC-USA. How do you imagine revelation came to people in the past? Do you imagine that it comes differently now? Is the story over, and was it a sitcom, a tragedy, a comedy, or a game show? Were you just a spectator?
The Revelation to John ends our bible with apocalyptic visions of a cosmic battle between good and evil, with an ultimate outcome in a city and a garden. Too often we surrender that book to others’ pre or post-millennial interpretation of the imagery. Is it predictions on a timeline?
The apocalyptic vision of crisis is characteristic of an age of turmoil. We feel forces beyond our control are operating, and that some great conflict and resolution will be required to bring it all right. When we feel powerless, it can give hope. When we have power, it can build alliances and shape choices.
John’s codes name the shapes of transpersonal reality. We talk of ‘ologies’ and ‘isms’, or ‘empire’ – but we may not know more than John did. Taken without analysis of our context, it can simply paralyse us in fear. Which did John intend, writing of his visions in a cave on Patmos? Hope and choices!
Apocalyptic isn’t only in ‘the Revelation’: check out Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, or 2 Thessalonians, and in Hebrew scriptures, Daniel and Ezekiel, for instance. So much for gentle Jesus, meek and mild! If the reign of God is close, it’s sure dissonant with how the world works in our histories.
Medieval models did replace apocalyptic ones according to Hans Kung’s typology, with visions of heaven above, and hell below, rather than cosmic battles above and on earth at the end of history. Is God finished speaking and acting – did God speak and act so very differently in the first centuries?
How will we reframe the picture and story, to give hope, to motivate choice, not fear? Do we build God’s commonwealth, or do we prepare ourselves as a citizens for it? Will it be dropped upon us, in discontinuity replacing the evils of our day? Is it to be won, in conflicts in which we take sides?
Is Jesus coming tomorrow? If he were, what would you differently? My bumper sticker reads: ‘Jesus is coming: act busy’ Providence is bigger than progress. How big is your vision of God’s story, or of our story as God’s people, or of your own story as a child of God?
Heretics like us have reduced the apocalyptic gospel to a set of modest political conclusions. First that was the over-realized eschatology of ‘building the Kingdom of God through the Brotherhood of Man’, now of a sectarian scolding, church posturing as ‘the conscience of the nation’.
Perhaps we could find new friends, and act in wider solidarity, without trying to be in charge, or even always right. Why live a sitcom, when offered a role in an epic? How big is ‘my story’, and ‘our story’, in ‘God’s story’?