Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Week 34 Tuesday (Year 2)

Readings: Revelation 14:14-19; Psalm 96; Luke 21:5-11

There is confusion and uncertainty in the two apocalyptic passages we hear today, the one from the Book of Revelation and the one from the Gospel of Luke. It is how the text might also leave us feeling, confused and uncertain. We might feel there is danger here, so much violence, usual in apocalyptic literature, but how are we to receive it? What are we to make of it?

The Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder argued that only an oppressed people, in the time in which they are suffering oppression, can understand the Book of Revelation. Christians who have become in any way comfortable in the world, particularly in terms of power and wealth, find it increasingly difficult to hear the Book of Revelation and to know what to do with it.

What has it got to do with us? From our position of comfort we might be tempted to feel that these readings are not at all relevant to ourselves. They are about either the distant past or the distant future. We know there is a connection with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Roman armies in 70AD. And we do not really expect Jesus to return soon, do we?

On the journey with him towards Jerusalem we were, at times, confused and uncertain about what he was getting at. And still we stayed with him because we saw or sensed something crucial in him, something crucial for our lives. So now, when we have arrived with him at his destination, and the events of his passion begin to unfold, we are asked to stay with him to the end. (Having loved his own who were in the world he loved them to the end: so Saint John's gospel, and we are asked to love him to the end.)

The journey reaches its conclusion not just in the city, Jerusalem, but in the heart of the city, the Temple. So the last part of Jesus' public ministry is conducted there (Luke 19:45-21:38). This is where, for Luke, the drama is centred. Luke's gospel begins and ends in the Temple, the old Temple. The Acts of the Apostles speaks about the new Temple, Jesus Christ, raised from the dead and living now in those who believe in him, spreading out from Jerusalem, up and down the Holy Land, and eventualy across the known world.

The destruction of the physical building by the Romans confirms a more radical collapse of the old Temple. The way in which God had, up to then, been present to His people is dissolved (the curtain is completely torn in two, from top to bottom) and in its place is the new way in which God is present to His people. Jesus is the new place of the presence of God, firstly in his own body and word and life, and then, when his Spirit has been sent on the apostles, in the church, the community of believers which is now the privileged place of God's presence.

It is why all those great prophetic texts about the Exile - the loss of the land, the fall of Jerusalem, the departure of God's glory from the Temple - can all be applied by Christians to the events of Jesus' suffering and death. All is being undone, creation disembodied, the order of the world is shaken, the centre cannot hold, confusion and uncertainty reign - and through the mist and dust and danger of all that comes the Son of Man, come to judge the world and its peoples, come to strip us completely of the clutter of our idols in order to lead us into the presence of the Living God.

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