Beginnings and Endings (John 18:33-37; Revelations 1:4b-8)
Charles Shultz, beloved author of the Peanuts Comic Strip, once remarked that we shouldn’t worry about the world coming to an end today, since it’s already tomorrow in Australia…
In one of his comic strips, Charlie Brown is listening to a friend interpret a nursery rhyme, saying “The way I see it, the cow jumped over the moon indicates a rise in farm prices…and the part about the dish running away with the spoon must refer to the consumer…do you agree with me Charlie Brown?”
“I can’t say,” Charlie Brown answers while walking away… “I don’t pretend to be a student of prophetic literature.”
Some interpretations of the Revelation of Jesus Christ can seem just about as nonsensical as using Mother Goose for economic forecasts. Religious folk have a running history of trying to interpret writings such as these as though they held some hidden clue to when Christ will return, and when the new heaven and earth will begin. All such interpretations really miss the central point of such writings – for John, since Jesus Christ was resurrected by God after having been put to death by earthly rulers and powers, we need no longer fear earthly rulers and powers in our time.
Evil, in some respects, can be described as the product of folk living their lives in time, and acting out their fear of time. We want, we desire, we grasp, we are contentious, we argue, we fight, we resist, we strive to overthrow and overwhelm – we use the power at our disposal to serve ourselves, and as a result, we injure others. We see this constantly in the machinations of city, state, national, church, and corporate government. Next time you read of policies in the news and the way they are justified by those in power or those behind the power, whether in Cincinnati, Ohio, the U.S., churches or corporations, ask yourselves whether they have risen above the bones of this definition to flesh out an honest to God humanity. If not, hold them accountable. Don’t give them wiggle room. That evil is, after all, being done with our tacit consent if we continue to sit back and do nothing.
Revelation’s ironic use of power exposes what G.B. Caird calls, “the self-destructive power of evil.” God’s use of power, in effect, is to allow evil to act unchecked, destroying God’s creation but not God’s purpose, for God’s purpose is ultimately made known in the resurrection and in a new creation – in the new life of Christ and in a new heaven and earth.
As Christians, we learn to reject the truths that claim to offer us stability and comfort within the framework of historical or temporal time. Instead, we learn to embrace the truth that God, who first breathed life into creation, actively sustains the creation with the breath of life, and will offer new life to the creation when it draws its last breath.
Most people speak about the kingdom of God and eternal life as if it is “life after death.” Revelation says the great mystery of the spiritual life is not something we wait for – it’s not something that happens later. It is the active presence of God at the center of our living.
In other words, when we live in communion with God, when we belong to God’s own household, there is no longer any “before” or “after.” Death is no longer the dividing line. Death has lost its power over those who belong to God, because God is the God of the living, not of the dead. Once we have tasted the joy and peace that come from being embraced by God’s love, we know ‘all is well and all shall be well’ (Julian of Norwich). This boils down to having the courage to confront evil in our living at the cost of life for the sake of life, which is, for my money (and the blood it represents) what it means to be “Christ”ian.