This is one of those texts we get nervous about as preachers: how to explain apocalyptic literature in fifteen minutes or less?
One way is to go the route of looking around our world. And no, I don't mean volcanoes and earthquakes. You don't have to dig too far into the news to still find horrific tales of genocide and terror in far too many places in our world.
But for most of us in our comfortable top 5% of the globe, the closest we get
to the apocalypse is a mini-apocalypse, that devastating moment when your world
falls apart – when the doctor uses words like Alzheimer's, or cancer, or when a spouse
suddenly does not come home again. The world as we know it can change in an instant.
The series Left Behind got a lot
wrong about the biblical witness, but it got one thing right: the title. Being left behind
by those we love --whether through discord or death -- feels like the end of the world. There was a study in the New
York Times magazine this week about how marriage is good for your health. What it
glossed over is that you’re only healthier (than those who never married) if you’re the one who dies first.
And so it is for all of us that this strange apocalyptic text can speak hope: we will not be alone. There will be a great host, soaked in blood and yet still strangely gleaming white, in the company of God together, and every tear will be wiped from our eyes.
I just returned from Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing, the fourth time I've attended this event. The next one isn't until 2012. But here's why you should already consider going:
1. It's a place where writers of fiction, nonfiction and poetry are given permission to talk about God. To hear some of the speakers tell it, no other public event provides them with the same context for reflection on matters of the spirit.
2. It's a place where pastors, theologians and people who talk about God all the time are given permission to to talk mostly about writing.
3. It's always the second week after Easter. . . a lovely time to get away.
4. Tulips, daffodils, redbud, magnolia, forsythia, cherry trees all in bloom simultaneously.
5. You get to hear authors you've read in the flesh and reflect on things you've read in the past.
6. You find out about wonderful writers you've never heard of and look forward to reading a whole raft of new books.
7. See # 4. . . really, those Dutch folk take their flowers seriously.
It has always disturbed me that the sermons and testimonies early in Acts seem so full of accusation: "this Jesus, whom you crucified. . . " the disciples preach.
Indeed, in this Sunday's first reading the authorities react, "you are determined to bring this man's blood on us!"
But then, any declaration of the resurrection had an element of judgment in it. Isn't that the way the story goes when the "good guy" -- whether Arnold Schwarzenegger or the ghostly victim of a wrongful death -- comes back? We expect the bad guys to get their comeuppance. It's kind of a wonder that Jesus appears primarily to his friends -- though they deserted him -- and always with "peace" on his lips.
In these testimonies after stating the bald truth of Jesus' wrongful death, the disciples always follow it with a proclamation that God raised Jesus so that repentance and forgiveness of sins might come for all.
That seems to be the common theme for this Sunday: there's no skimming over the bloody mess. We must witness to the real wounds before we can see the real forgiveness the resurrection offers.
Perhaps the only upside to the drumbeat of awful abuse stories out of the Roman Catholic church -- and the tin ears of the hierarchy -- is that the Lutherans' in-fighting over sexuality has finally dropped out of the press. (It might even make us look relatively healthy by comparison). I hurt for my brothers and sisters in the Roman communion who love their church and abhor what has been happening.