Trouble ahead?

Proper 28B

Daniel 12:1-13

Psalm 16

Hebrews 10:31-39

Mark 13:14-23

Ah, you can tell we are coming to the end of the liturgical year! Tis the season for apocalypsis. Daniel 12 (all of Daniel, in fact) and Mark 13 are examples of apocalyptic literature. Both of them purport to show trouble ahead, and then beyond that, better times. The trick of apocalyptic literature, what makes it so appealing to its intended readers, is the accuracy with which it seems to predict the troubles we are now living through. Apocalyptic literature is always put on the pen of someone who lived a long time ago, and predicted these troubles. That way, we can trust also his prediction of the resolution of these troubles. Jesus seems to predict the destruction of Jerusalem. Daniel, in the Babylonian court seems to predict the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

What make apocalyptic appealing to us (living well past its intended audience) is the cosmic view taken. Events of this world are directly connected to events in the divine throne room. What is happening to us is not random, but part of God’s plan.  God has not forgotten us and left us to suffer, but all these things must take place in order that God’s appointed purpose can be worked out, and we will be part of that plan, just a few minutes from now.

The danger, of course, is to begin to think God intends this present trouble as a test for us. I suppose it is alright to think so when the trouble isn’t too bad, but when it makes no sense, we run the risk of turning God into a monster. Or perhaps, if we keep God out there on the grand political stage (our persecution will soon come to an end) things are o.k., but when it gets personal we run into problems.

R’s death and funeral this week is a good example. If that was part of God’s plan, God is a monster. The hope given in these passages is that God “has cut short those days” and the “shattering of the power of your people” has come to an end. These things are just facts (but not unnoticed in the heavenly court), and God will bring them to an end. For R’s widow, the future will be bright again. We will not always be powerless to comfort her.

All apocalyptic literature takes the perspective of a life beyond (and sometimes after) this one. These things are not the final reality. Whether in some future resurrection, or in some restoration of God’s divine plan, things will be set right. From the divine perspective, this is not the way things are supposed to be. The seers get into trouble when they try with too much detail to imagine how things are supposed to be. That often involves retribution of a particularly sordid sort against God’s enemies (the oppressed can easily become oppressors when the tables turn). The hope we have is that this wasn’t supposed to happen, and God will make it right.

Apocalypses also often include visions of worship (sometimes as if on hallucinogens). It is at worship where the divine order is restored, particularly worship in the divine realm. Our worship here is a reflection (sometimes feeble) of that divine worship, but provides a foretaste of things set right. The service for R on Monday gave us a foretaste of that divine restoration and resurrection. In it, all of us, R included, were raised to new life. Our grief was carried into the divine throne room and given comfort. Our lives were restored and a better future promised. Worship helps us to see things from the apocalyptic perspective, the way things should be even when they are not. It trains our imagination for that visionary work.

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