• Daniel 12:1-3 • Hebrews 10:11-14, 18 • Mark 13:24-3 • 33 Ordinary B ‘12 •
“Christ has died, Christ is risen, CHRIST WILL COME AGAIN!” It seems the early Christians were obsessed with the idea that “the Son of Man” – Jesus, would return in their lifetime. Paul, Mark and Matthew seem convinced they would not die before the Parousia. Luke and others remained convinced “the Son of Man” would return, but his arrival was delayed. Gradually that became the common expectation.
“The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky.” Such “apocalyptic” images persist in Christian texts. “Apocalyptic” literature is a response to stress. It assures a community faced with danger and destruction, that God never abandons us.
Jesus was a nonviolent person, probably a pacifist. Pacifists are a threat to any institution that employs violence to achieve its goals — like Rome or the United States. Church historians tell us most early Christians faithfully imitated his pacifism, even when it was culturally unpopular and created problems for their community.
The “apocalyptic’ literature of our Christian Bible was written when Roman authorities were a definite threat to the Christian community. The Romans needed men to fight in their armies. They put pressure on the followers of Jesus to scare them and turn them into loyal, “country-defending Romans.” When a situation gets bad enough, a community looks to the future for relief. Apocalyptic authors such as Mark speak about that future in symbolic terms. They try to sustain faith and confident hope in their audience.
In later centuries some “followers of Jesus” lost the gospel vision that had formed the earlier communities. Christians began to appropriate the very imperial structures and philosophy that control rather than serve people. What we were sent to overcome, overcame us. We have been struggling with the consequences of that for at least 1500 years. That includes the inclination to read the symbols and images of apocalyptic texts in a literal manner as if those images were written for our time. We see this in the popularity of the recent “Left Behinds” series of books.
Like our ancestors in faith we also live in a dangerous world and can feel overwhelmed with stress by the enormous cultural changes occurring today. Our nation remains stuck in two deadly wars. When folks feel that life is “busy” they seldom experience the reality of God, and easily feel that life is without meaning. Many of our peers are tempted to abandon faith. The message of apocalyptic literature is that life is meaningful and God never abandons us.
My spin or understanding of what “the parousia,” means, differs significantly from what current orthodoxy teaches. This is my conviction. “The Son of Man” did not return when expected by the communities of Paul, Mark and Matthew because he already had returned. I think his return, his second coming happened with God raised him from the dead.
In his public life, Jesus proclaimed “the kingdom of God” / “God’s new reality.” He was clear in stating that although it is not yet fully realized, it is emerging among us here and now! It is a world of justice and peace in which evil will be eliminated.
Will “the sun be darkened, the moon not give its light, and the stars fall from the sky” at some moment in the future? I have no idea. I do trust in the theory of modern science that the cosmos is expanding and will never end. Life as we know it could cease to exist. I have no doubt that one-day my life here on this planet will end. However I trust in the rich tradition that has been passed to us by our ancestors in faith that we are not heading for a void or a vacuum. I believe the moment of my death will be a moment of transition, when no longer confined by time and space, I will be delighted to discover that we all live in the mystery of God. The embrace of God awaits us, all of us. “Of that day or hours, no one knows … only the Father.” That is enough for me!