Friday, March 28, 2008

Speculations of the End

Friday, March 28, 2008 -- Friday of Easter Week

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, page 959)
Psalms 136 (morning) 118 (evening)
Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
Luke 24:1-12

In the last part of 1 Corinthians 15 Paul offers an imaginative vision of the expected time of Jesus' return. Those who have already died will be raised. He has spoken of their resurrection body as a spiritual body which is imperishable. Those who are still alive, he says, will not die, but will be changed, and will also put on an imperishable body. Death will then be swallowed up in victory. In a similar passage in 1 Thessalonians, Paul imagines both the dead and those who are alive will meet the returning Jesus in the air. Forming a great procession, all will join to welcome Jesus and to celebrate his return to the earth to initiate the Kingdom of God on earth.

Paul then combines words from Isaiah and Hosea to declare the fulfillment of their hopes: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" Then Paul offers a touch of commentary: "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul's gospel continually proclaims that Christ has broken the stranglehold of sin, death and law in Jesus' death and resurrection. The sin of Adam that introduced death to all humanity and which exercised its power through the law of Moses has been broken for all. As in Adam all died, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. The perishable will inherit imperishibility, and all the earth will dwell with Christ in peace.

Paul's vision is a beautiful one. It is consistent with the hope of the early church for the imminent return of Jesus to fulfill the dream of the Kingdom of God that he spoke of. That expectation caused two sets of problems for the early church. One set of problems had to do with how the church might live now when everything will be changed so soon. No need to marry, Paul said. But, those who have quit work need to get back to their employment. ("Anyone unwilling to work shall not eat.")

The other set of problems came with the delay of Jesus' return. Some of the New Testament is written to counter the disillusionment that grew as time passed and Christ did not return as expected. Some of the motivation for developing organizational structures and written remembrances, teachings and policies were the result of the postponed return. As we get further from the events of Jesus' life, we get more concern with institutional things. We see that development especially in the later writings of Titus and 1 & 2 Timothy a generation or so after Paul.

After twenty centuries the church has adjusted its vision to focus on living faithfully in our generation, caring for the earth and the church with the likelihood that it will continue for the foreseeable future.

There are those who focus on the "end times." There are raging theological battles between post-tribulation premillinialists and pre-tribulation premillianialists and postmillianialists and amillianialists. And then there are the dispensationalists who try to fix problems with these interpretations by inventing different values (dispensations) for different ages on the way to the end. Some of the best selling books of our lifetime are from the imaginations of the pre-trib folks. One of the best selling Bibles is the Schofield Bible that makes wild speculation look like scholarship.

My sense of these movements is that they seem like a waste of time and energy to me. Trust God for the end -- our own and the universe. Whatever God wants is fine with me. My focus is in the meantime. I've got the here-and-now to be with the Risen Lord and to be and do what God would call me to be and do. That's plenty for me. The foretaste of resurrection and the dream of the Kingdom of God is plenty for me to orient my life and give myself to something fulfilling. I'm just trying to be faithful in the present, I'll leave the future to God and the speculation about the future to others.

Lowell

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About Morning Reflections
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


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

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

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

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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