End Times

First Sunday of Advent

 

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

The story of the end, of the last word
of the end, when told, is a story that never ends.

From Mark Strand’s “The Seven Last Words”

Christianity makes the brazen claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the end of history, and the double-entendre is deliberate.

On the one hand, the consummation that Christ’s resurrection makes possible cannot be an event in history, enclosed by history, any more than creation can be an event enfolded in time. On the other hand, the life, death, and resurrection of this first-century crucified Jew is the telos, the goal, the realized hope of all human (and non-human) existence. Jesus of Nazareth is history’s end.

In other words, the crucified and risen Christ not only completes history but ruptures it. Precisely in and through the historical contingencies of first-century Palestine—this specific set of laws and customs, that particular Roman procurator—the future, God’s good future, begins. In a backwater province of Empire, the truth of the triune God breaks history open not through political coercion or insurrection but with a revolution of forgiving, reconciling love. As John Howard Yoder put it:

The point that apocalyptic makes is not only that people who wear crowns and who claim to foster justice by the sword are not as strong as they think—true as that is . . . It is that people who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe. Read more

The Terrible Speed of Mercy

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Six months ago I was doing my part to rail against the folly of doomsday predictions and the dangers of rapture theology. At the time, Harold Camping and his May 21 prediction were the epicenter of media frenzy, not only in The Rapture Gazette and late-night paid programming, but also in above-the-fold NY Times articles and primetime NPR stories. This truly bewildering sensation spawned billboards, talking head reports, and “end of the world” parties.

I still shake my head and wonder if the madness in May was not only Harold Camping’s, but also biblical eschatology’s proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. Did the words we needed to speak six months ago have the unintended effect of making people sink more deeply than ever into living as in the days of Noah? Read more

The Close-at-Hand God

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

“On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” John 14:20

For several weeks now the doomsday prophecy of one Harold Camping has been on the minds of many. First, it was the shared anticipation as the projected date got closer—and the requisite jokes about being left behind. Then it was the (no-surprise) failure of the prediction which resulted in . . . more jokes about being left behind.

Attempts to counter Camping’s misguided views consisted mostly of pointing to passages in the New Testament which speak to the unknowability of the “day or hour” of the Lord’s return. But such proof-texting did little to challenge the core flaw of rapture theology—its fundamental misreading of biblical eschatology. Within the last few days, thankfully, thoughtful essays have appeared which have noted that “tribulation” is a past and present reality, not a future horror for the damned, and that matter—bodies, earth, the stuff of life—matters deeply to the God who restores and makes all things new. I also penned some thoughts (shameless plug alert) on the connections between eschatological time and the exquisite new French film Of Gods and Men. Read more

Advent Outdoors

Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146: 5-10 or Luke 1:47-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

The haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes
. Isaiah 35:7b

Wendell Berry observes that it’s not enough appreciated how much an outdoor book the Bible is. For many, such an insight serves mainly to underwrite the idea that we can worship God best in nature’s environs: mountaintops, seashores, golf courses. But I think that Berry is on to something else, as are the appointed texts for the season of Advent generally and for the third Sunday especially. Read more