Over the last few weeks, the Sunday readings have given a
pretty good exposure to “Apocalyptic” Literature. The Book of Daniel, in the Jewish Bible, and the Book of Revelations from the Christian texts… these are classic biblical examples.
The main characteristics of Apocalyptic Literature are the use
of symbolic imagery and symbolic numbers. In the Book of Revelations there’s reference to a “beast with seven heads and 10m horns.
This type of literature is designed to give encouragement to a
population, to a people, during time of great challenge. It’s designed to give hope to people that need it, in the times they need it! It’s designed to remind the community that God will indeed prevail when the skies of soul are overcast by fear… when it seems like the darkness has settled in. The writers of Apocalyptic remind the people again: Hold on, dear people… hold on! The sun will rise tomorrow!
Again, in the Gospel reading for Sunday, Jesus speaks
“There will be strange signs in the sun, the moon and the stars. Nations will be in turmoil. So when all these begin to happen… stand and look up… your salvation is near!
Now, this can be very interesting intellectually, all this easy to hear on an intellectual level… but it really was a thing back then. It really was intended to help people! And it is a thing now too!
When I was a kid there was turmoil indeed! The world was tired of war by then! The world had seen two wars engulf the planet… that had left over 30 million people dead. But there were wars again.
I was born just 20 years after end of WWII. By then, the surviving world-powers – led in the West by the United States and Great Britain, along with its NATO allies, and in the East by the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite countries – had settled in to a subtle war… of spies, and diplomacy, and sometimes barely veiled hostility.
But there wars again…
In 1967 Egypt, Syria, Jordan attacked Israel – and almost ended Israel as a nation… barely a country with 20 years. The world held its breath, watching, scared. Maybe world leaders were scared this might spark another devastating World War. This planet… the people… just couldn’t tolerate another war like that!
But there were wars again…
Vietnam – That most unpopular war! It took lives, impacted lives. Lines in the sand were drawn. People made choices about this war, like people made choices about who they were…in a time of real challenge.
Times of change indeed! “This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius!”. I was just a kid, but I did have a sense there was some kind of fire burning in the world. I couldn’t have put words to it then, as I could years later. But society was indeed on fire! I remember Long straight hair on lots of people – young people mostly. I remember people wearing bell-bottomed jeans, and love beads- those cords of multi-colored beads people would wear. And head-bands.
In retrospect, even at my young age, I could see a culture changing. My father wore suits and ties to work… and others wore almost nothing at all. A good percentage of younger people decided to try something totally new – something outside of societies expectations, something separate from parental norms.
Maybe there was a bit of people trying to “find themselves” – trying to differentiate themselves from their parents, and from the society their parents came from. But it seemed this was also partially a reaction to what would be their inheritance – a world of mistrust, of subterfuge, of war and its after-math, of racism, and all the other injustices they wanted to address differently from their ancestors. And they decided to say NO! They decided – in their own ways, to build a new world.
Maybe a percentage of them later turned into investment bankers as the years passed. But the point was they felt the need to see a new way. And in their idealism, they acted to attempt to make a new way.
But this new way did not come without cost! This idealism was expensive! Sit-ins, and protests, and violence of all kinds. The Kent State shootings in ’69… where some students on campus were shot and killed by National Guardsmen. Some others wounded. I can still that famous picture of a young lady, a student, on her knees by the body of one of her friends. I remember the look she had, her hand raised in angered pleading.
This era had challenges for sure. But it also had competing views, of what might come – of what the future could or should bring!
Deep, enculturated, racism was challenged! Martin Luther King called it the “sweltering heat of oppression” that seemed to get turned up. There were marches and protests and speeches. There was SNCC (Snick) on one hand – the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And there were lynchings, and cross-burnings, and riots… in Baltimore and DC. on the other.
Civil Rights… Equal Rights… where women… again… asserted their voices – like the “coloreds” (as African Americans were called back then)… challenging a system in which they had little voice… almost none.
Gay Rights… where homosexuals also began finding their voices as legitimate people in their own right. All this, a mix of cultures and views almost challenging each other for supremacy!
Cultural norms, cultural expectations, cultural inheritances… all of it was changing! I’m sure to many it must have felt like it was all up for grabs. There was lots of violence; physical, verbal, emotional. Spiritual even.
There were assassinations of very public figures… people that were loved, revered even! And hated! President John F. Kennedy was a very popular leader in some circles! Some called his presidency Camelot, named after the kingdom of the reign of the legendary English King Arthur. Camelot seemed to many a time of prosperity – in spite of the challenges! A time of Vision! A time of Hope!
“We will put a man on the moon by the end of this decade!” Kennedy said… By the end of the 1960’s. Sure, it had to do with a race against time to beat the Soviets to the moon. But it was also an expression of what America was – in spite of its challenges! And there really were challenges!
“Ask not what your country can do for you… ask instead what you can do for your country!”
And people did indeed step up… to serve its people and the world. The Peace Corps was created back then, and is still active today. But they also stepped up to challenge the existing systems in the name of Light!
Some say when John Kennedy was killed, he was killed in his prime – in American’s Prime. And when he died, a part of America died with him. A part of America’s innocence was taken! The world mourned with Jackie as she made the long walk behind her husband’s horse drawn casket.
And just a few years later, his brother Robert Kennedy would be assassinated. Bobbie would be killed in a hotel in Los Angeles, in the kitchen, as he was campaigning for the position his brother had once held not that long before.
And Malcolm X was assassinated in the late ’60’s as well. He’d left the group – The Nation of Islam… speaking more and more about Whites and Blacks working together to create a new system of justice, where people of all races and cultures walked together as brothers and sisters.
And Martin Luther King… was shot to death as well. A beacon of light to so many! He reminded people where the light was coming from… and what it could do if people held on…
THIS is modern Apocalyptic!
I have a dream!
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi – a state sweltering with the heat of injustice – sweltering with the heat of oppression – will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”
“When we allow freedom to ring – when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, Free at last, Great God almighty, we are free at last.’”
He and others that lifted up the light in the midst of this tremendous time of challenge and change, that helped people keep their eyes up, their hearts up. This was an example of modern Apocalyptic!
He and many others held up a dream… a vision… in spite of what darkness did exist… and it indeed did… that the dawn of a new way would certainly break! You just had to hold on…
And they held on! In spite of the challenges and obstacles to the Light… they held on! They held on to their faith… as people of Light and Life! And to a God of New Life! They held on! They held on… waiting for the hoped-for dawning of a new day! This is what Apocalyptic is all about!
It’s about reminding people of the light, the people of a living God, in the midst of some very challenging times! When it doesn’t look like the sun will rise for a long time… when the night seems to go on and on… when justice herself seems to be bound and gagged by the dark forces… When God – that God of rightness – seems to be far off… That’s when this helps to remind us all that we are a People of God… That’s when these words of encouragement call out to us… That’s when these words help us spark that light again.
That’s when these words remind us God is indeed there! There in our prayers… there in our works of Justice… there in our neighbor’s faces… and hands. Even in the dark… where we have trouble seeing… God is there.
And today… today… again a time and place of challenge! A world of challenge, where our culture and norms and expectations are changing again! A lot! Fast! Scary-fast!
Cultural norms are being challenged. Societal institutions are being challenged.
We can react out of fear! Led by the “ Fight or Flight or Freeze” experience of our reptile-brain – where we react from gut-level emotional responses to changes… changes that scare us!
Or we can take a second… or two… or three… And take a breath… or two… or three… and use the greater portion of our brains that God gave us and think and reason a little. We have time to do this! We can make the time!
We can take that time to filter these changes that would otherwise scare us into reacting and remember our faith! Remember our Gospel stories of Jesus – and what he said, and what he did, and why he SAID those things… and why he DID those things… and what those words and actions mean to us today… in the context of our changing times!
The dawning of a new day means… patience! It means… living out the call of Love… of looking at people – especially those that scare us!... with the eyes of God… as best we’re able!
Yes – The message for us is still that the light of a new tomorrow will dawn! And Yes!... it is still that God’s Light will shine again! And dispel the darkness! But maybe our book of apocalyptic includes our call to live today as if the Dawn has already broken!
If God’s Light has broken… what would it look like? If we weren’t ruled by fear… what would that look like? With our neighbors? In our laws? From our governments?
Folks… in the words of that popular prophet Bob Dylan… times they are indeed a-changing! Again! And again, we can either react – from fear! Again! Or we can respond – from our faith! Again! And remember again… God is a God of life! And we’re people of Light! And that makes all the difference… to help us see differently! And with God’s help and Grace… we can do the good work of helping the dawn of a new day rise again!