Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Apocalypse Now

2 Cor. 4:3-6; Mk. 9:2-9[1]

The word “Apocalypse” is a bad word for most of us. It carries connotations of the total annihilation of life, the end of the world in some great conflagration. One of the reasons why we make that association is that the writings that claim to be “apocalypses” typically make dire predictions about the destruction of life on earth. I think one of the reasons why people like you and me have been so fascinated with apocalypses that threaten the end of the world in a blazing inferno is because we want to know; we want to know what will happen to life, we want to know what will happen to us and those we love. Ironically, then, people of faith have looked to these predictions of doom for hope and reassurance!

But originally, the word “apocalypse” meant something very different. The word “apocalypse” in Greek means a disclosure, an unveiling, or a revealing of what is hidden. And so, for example, the book of Revelation is actually titled the “Apocalypse” of Jesus Christ—not because it threatens some horrific end-times scenario, but because it reveals of God’s intentions for this world. From that perspective, the idea of “apocalypse” actually lies at the root of Christian faith. As we have discussed throughout Epiphany, one of the major themes in the Gospels is that Jesus revealed the presence of God’s kingdom, already working among us to make all things new, to set things right and restore life as God intended for it to be. In a very real sense, we could say that Jesus’ whole life and ministry was an “apocalypse”: it was an unveiling, a disclosure of God’s work of salvation for us all and for all creation.

But as we have also discussed throughout Epiphany, the “apocalypse” that took place in Jesus is a “veiled disclosure,” one which is hidden and easily overlooked. It might make more sense for us to speak of Jesus’ life and ministry as a kind of preview—where we get a taste of what is coming but the full dimension of what that is remains to be seen. That’s what the transfiguration of Jesus was—a preview of what is to come. Whatever you make of it in terms of “just the facts”, the point of the transfiguration was that it was a pre-view of Jesus’ resurrection. And, in turn, one aspect Jesus’ resurrection is that it serves as a pre-view of the resurrection of all life and indeed all creation.[2] So the “apocalypse” that occurred when Jesus was transfigured before his disciples reveals the light of God’s new life already breaking into this world.[3] When we pay attention to the “preview” of what is to come that we have in everything from Jesus’ birth to his transfiguration, from his compassion to his death to his resurrection and ascension, what we see actually looks nothing like some horrible fire and brimstone day of reckoning, but rather like the Garden of Eden renewed.

St. Paul the Apostle says it this way, “God commanded light to shine in the dark—Now God is shining in our hearts!” (2 Corinthians 4:6 CEV). Although St. Paul knew as much as anyone that the light that God has poured into this world of darkness is one that can be veiled, he nevertheless believed without a doubt that the light is indeed shining. The Apostle shared the conviction—not simply an opinion but a deeply-rooted conviction—that what God has done in this world through Jesus Christ has changed everything.[4] The nature of that change is such that it can be easily overlooked, but it is nevertheless the foundation of Paul’s faith: the light of God’s new life and new creation is already shining here and now.[5]

For those of us who long for the security of knowing that all we could hope for or believe in about our faith is ultimately true, there is nothing in Scripture that will satisfy that longing. I’m afraid that means the fear-mongers who produce “Apocalypses” of doom will continue to have a thriving business. But if we are willing to take the risk of hoping for more than we have yet seen,[6] what we can have is assurance. We can have the assurance that Jesus’ life and death and resurrection serves as a disclosure, an unveiling, an “apocalypse” now in our day and time of the new creation that God will one day bring in all its beauty to restore all life in this world.[7]

We can have the assurance that comes from the fact that Jesus’ whole existence points us to the promise that “I am making the whole of creation new” (Revelation 21:5). It points us toward the promise that the new creation will mean “I have swallowed up death forever” (Isaiah 25:8) and “I will wipe away every tear” (Revelation 21:4). It points us to a world in which “they will all know me, from the greatest to the least” (Jeremiah 31:34), and “they will beat their swords into ploughshares” (Isaiah 2:4). It points us to the hope that one day God will be “all in all”—and that will be a day when everyone and everything will be filled with God’s life and love and joy and peace.[8]

[1] © 2009 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 2/22/09 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Cf., for example, 1 Corinthians 15:20 where Paul says that Jesus was raised from the dead as the “first-fruits,” or anticipation, of the resurrection of all humankind.

[3] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 251: he speaks of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead in terms of a “transfiguration” that “is the beginning of the transfiguration of all mortal life.”

[4] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.3.489, where he deals with the affirmations of universal salvation in the Bible as an anticipation of “the final and conclusive future of God” that is through the redemption effected in Jesus Christ “already the one reality which here and now still encounters us in concealment.”

[5] Cf. Barth, Dogmatics 4.3.490-91; cf. also Moltmann, Way of Jesus Christ, 223: the resurrection of Jesus “speaks its own language of promise and well-founded hope, but is not yet the language of accomplished fact.”

[6] Cf. A Declaration of Faith, PCUS (1977) §10.1.

[7] Cf. Moltmann, Way of Jesus Christ, 219.

[8] Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.3.319 says it this way: we look forward to the day when “the light of life which has appeared in Him will penetrate and fill even the remotest corner of the cosmos.”

No comments: