Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Apocalypse

Tuesday, August 28, 2007 -- Week of Proper 16
(Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 430))

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

Audio Podcasts of today's "Morning Reflection" and those from the past week are available from http://www.stpaulsfay.org/id244.html (go to St. Paul's Home Page www.stpaulsfay.org and click "Morning Reflection podcast")

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (p. 980)
Psalms 5, 6 (morning) 10, 11 (evening)
1 Kings 1:38 - 2:4
Acts 26:24 - 27:8
Mark 13:28-37

Apocalyptic literature abounds among ancient religious traditions. There are many apocalyptic compositions among the early Christian writings. Only the book of Revelation and a few fragments in the Gospels were incorporated into the Christian scriptures. Apocalyptic literature intends to encourage the reader's steadfastness and hope in the midst of threat or challenge by asserting that God is actually in control of this frightening and chaotic world and will intervene with decisive justice.

This section of Mark's Gospel is sometimes called the "Little Apocalypse." It includes several characteristics typical of apocalyptic writing -- predictions of destruction, heavenly portents, the gathering of God's chosen. In Mark's Gospel we read of an expectation of an immanent end of the world. (Mark's is the earliest Gospel.) There is a similar expectation in the earliest of Paul's writing.

One of the major themes that flows through the early Christian literature is how the church dealt with the delay of the expected return of Christ. Most scholars believe that apocalyptic expectation was part of Jesus' teaching. Mark offers the expectation that "this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place." There is a qualification in Mark's Gospel, however: "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

Matthew takes much of this same material but removes the end-of-the-world context. For Matthew, the signs of conflict, persecution and familial disintegration are signs that one is living faithfully according to the teachings of Jesus. Luke employs a kind of delayed eschatology that implies that the end has already come in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and we now live in the new age. In John, the term "eternal life" refers to a quality of existence that is filled with the presence of Jesus here and now.

Some interpreters in the scientific or modern age attempted to analyze apocalyptic texts in a style similar to the scientific method. They tried to collect the many images and predictions into a logical pattern and correlate those to observable history in order to create a predictable outcome. These works -- usually filled with cross references, "scholarly" analysis and footnotes -- were especially popular toward the end of the modern age ("The Late Great Planet Earth" and the "Left Behind" series). I wrote my honors thesis on a 17th century devotee to apocalyptic thought. He was convinced that the events of the Puritan revolution in England as the year 1666 approached was an indication of the fulfillment of the end times.

I've never been drawn to apocalyptic writing except for its fantastic imagery and poetry. I also appreciate the energy of apocalyptic alertness, but more in the tradition of a day-to-day expectation of presence than an end of time cataclysm. End-time predictions seem to have a short shelf life and doubtful premise to me. I'm more comfortable accepting "about that day or hour no one knows" rather than believing that Hal Lindsay or Tim LaHaye knows.

Recent scholarship, noting the absence of persecution during the time of Revelation's composition, has suggested that the real threat that the final book of the New Testament writes of is not some form of Roman persecution, but rather the temptations and enticements of Roman wealth, power and materialism. When read in that light, the often perplexing book of Revelation comes to new life for me. Indeed, it becomes an apocalypse warning of the danger of consumerism, the idolatrous god of our own day. That's a theme we will visit in tomorrow's reading.

Lowell

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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
St
.
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

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