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The Apocalypse for Now 5: The Now and Future King

May 13, 2013

“The Apocalypse for Now 5: The Now and Future King” Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 © 5.12.13 Easter 7C by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

If there’s one thing we wish we had more of, besides money, I suspect it’s time. The journalist Arianna Huffington observed recently: “Our culture is obsessed with time. This is our real deficit crisis, and one that, unlike the more commonly discussed deficit, is actually getting worse. In order to manage time—or what we delude ourselves into thinking of as managing time—we rigidly schedule ourselves, rushing from meeting to meeting, event to event, always just a little late and trying to save a bit of time here, a little bit there. We download apps for ‘productivity’ and eagerly click on links promising time-saving life-hacks. We fear that if we don’t try to cram as much as possible into our day, we might be missing out on something fun, or important, or special.

“We’re all suffering from an epidemic of what [one writer] calls ‘hurry sickness’”  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/americas-real-deficit-crisis_b_3204683.html?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=050313&utm_medium=email&utm_content=FeaturePhoto&utm_term=Daily%20Brief).

 

There are two things that make managing time so hard. For one, it’s elastic. For the other, it doesn’t pass at a constant speed. So, time flies when you’re having fun, but a watched pot never boils. The weekend is gone before we know it, but the workday drags on. Minutes feel like hours when we’re waiting on word from the doctor or pacing around in nervous anticipation before our wedding.

Some periods of time are more significant than others. There on the rack or the shelf or the webpage is a one-of-a-kind item we’ve been looking for. Better get it today; it will be gone! There are ten seconds left in the game; a field goal will win it; the kicker has to put the ball between the uprights. The WWII bombardier in the nose of a B-17 had thirty seconds over the target; if clouds obscured his view or the plane was off course, the mission was a failure, and lives of ten men were put in danger for nothing. The teen comes with a pressing question about sexuality or peer pressure or just homework, but the parent just “doesn’t have time for that right now.” The doctor brings in the results of the tests, and it’s bad news; in that moment, life changes.

The ancient Greeks noticed as we have that time was value-laden. So they decided one word would not do; they came up with two that we translate as “time.” One, chronos, meant the passage of minutes, hours and days from past through present to the future. It’s linear, tick-tock, measurable, clock time. It’s from this word we get our terms “chronology” and “chronometer.”

But there’s another word, their description of those moments that are more important than others. They talked about kairos, time that has a special quality. It’s an opportunity, crisis, event, what people in the ‘60s called a “happening.” “We may never pass this way again” said the old song. That’s kairos. The time is now. Carpe diem. Seize the day. This is time with a definite article in front of it: the day, the moment.

We’re told that when Jesus came into Galilee to start his ministry, he said “The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” He was talking about kairos, the opportunity right now to change and to find hope and to live a better life. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “…when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” Somewhat later, he told the Romans: “at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” Kairos again. And when finally we come to Revelation in the late 90s of that first century AD, the prophet John insists that the time is near when Jesus will return.

The biblical writers and their congregations were all convinced they were living in the last days. Jesus was coming soon! What sort of people ought they to be, then, if any day they would be called to give an account of what they had done and been, how they used the gifts entrusted to them, how they took advantage of opportunities they had, whether they had lived for the glory of God and in service to their neighbors. They wanted very much to be insiders on “the Day,” when Jesus returned with his reward for all the faithful.

I wonder if we think very much about what we now call “the second coming.” (It’s worth noting, by the way, that there is no such term in the Bible.) Maybe we’re like an Episcopal seminary professor I once heard. Asked about the “second” coming, he replied: “The second coming?! I’m still trying to deal with the first!” I’m not sure how you regard people who get caught up in speculation about the end times or develop timetables or hang onto teaching about so-called “prophecy” from this or that book, preacher or website, but I regard them as a little mixed-up and misguided. I should know. Having read and believed a great deal of such material back in the day, I can testify that most of it is at best a mixture of bad theology and spurious interpretation, and at worst, blatant manipulation and promotion of fear. And often folk who are obsessed with the end, whether the second coming or making it to heaven, seem to have no particular concern for the pressing problems of today. They may become passive, just waiting for Jesus to return and set things right, instead of their trying to make a difference now. Or their only interest is in how many souls they can save for the next life; never mind how hungry, sick, lonely, left out or oppressed someone is this moment.

But in rejecting the views of the fanatics, let’s not forget that there is value in living each day as if it were our last or the end of the world. That’s the sense of urgency the earliest Christians had. It wasn’t panic or hurry, a pressured and frenzied running around trying to clean up our act like a college student hiding stuff in his or her apartment before the parents come over. Instead, this sort of urgency is what Eugene Peterson once called “quiet attentiveness” (Reversed Thunder: 192). The urgency, he notes, is in attending, being alert to the presence of Christ in our midst.

Let me introduce you to another Greek word. It’s parousia. We really can’t translate it adequately, since it means both “presence” and “coming.” When the Bible talks about the “coming” of Jesus, that’s the word the authors use. Every intuition, every feeling that Christ is with us in this moment, on this day, is a sign and promise that he will return. It’s a down payment on the inheritance we’ll receive, an encouragement to keep on keeping on, to persevere through suffering.

We’ll miss the parousia of our Lord in our daily lives if we’re not alert and attentive. So often we allow the very real demands and needs of our chronos lives to keep us from sensing the kairos. Christ comes to us in that word from a friend, in some line from a movie or a book or even a sermon, in the poor child or the homeless dog whose image confronts us on the TV or computer screen. But we miss him, because we’re not paying attention. He speaks softly but clearly, but the cacophony in our brains is so loud and insistent we can’t pick out his voice in the noise. Again with Peterson: “If we are dominated by a sense of chronos, the future is a source of anxiety, leaching energy from the present or leaving us whiningly discontent with the present, like a child who can’t wait for Christmas. But if we are dominated by a sense of kairos, the future is a source of expectation that pours energy into the present” (193). A sense of kairos, the right time, God’s time, enables us to experience parousia, the coming and presence of Christ with and among us.

What if you and I were alert to the kairos of God? What would we see if the parousia were the lens through which we looked at the world? Wouldn’t we then find that there is no such thing as an ordinary event or ordinary time, despite the name of the upcoming season of the church year? Everything that happens, we would discover, is charged with the energy of God. The smallest occurrence, the shortest conversation may bring a flash of insight about what God is up to.

What a tragedy if we should miss all the special clues and hints of his presence that God has strewn around our lives in abundance! Walker Percy, the late, great Southern novelist, has a book entitled The Second Coming. The main character, Will Barrett, makes a visit to a nursing home funded by his wife’s estate. He’s walking down a hall with the chaplain, Jack Curl. As they stroll, Barrett comes to a realization. Percy writes: “How did it happen that for the first time in his life he could see everything so clearly? Something had given him leave to live in the present. Not once in his entire life had he allowed himself to come to rest in the quiet center of himself but had forever cast himself forward from some dark past he could not remember to a future which did not exist. Not once had he been present for his life. So his life had passed by like a dream” (123-124).

The key to sensing and experiencing the parousia, the presence of Christ, is just the sort of quiet centering Barrett missed. In the end, of course, such an awareness if a mysterious gift of the Spirit, but there are spiritual disciplines that help us become more attuned and recognize those holy, kairos moments. Practices like prayer in the many forms that can take. Reading Scripture, especially with the ancient method called lectio divina. Journaling, writing down our experiences that seemed very much like a meeting with Jesus. Works of service, especially caring for the sick, the lonely, the hungry, and the hurting.

But the churches of Revelation knew that the supreme moment of kairos for the believer is the celebration of the Eucharist, Holy Communion. This epistle was read in its entirety before the congregation shared bread and cup from their common meal. The morning’s text is part of their liturgy of the Table. Those gathered had been taken to heaven in John’s vision, and now in this chapter, they return to earth. The congregation cries out for Jesus to come as promised. And then they invite all who thirst to share in the gifts that are offered.

It’s what we might call the combination of vertical and horizontal that makes the Eucharist such a marvelous way to experience the parousia, the presence and coming of the now and future King. We call on Christ to be present with us, to come to us by his Spirit in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. And we realize the meal is not merely a memorial to a dead man, but a celebration of One who is alive. It’s an anticipation and a foretaste of his coming. We even claim that the risen and ascended Christ is himself the host at the Table, and that in faith we are nourished by him. We gain strength, courage, and inspiration, which we need, for are also challenged at the Table.

But if we get something for ourselves, so also are we called at the Table to go out and invite all who long for hope and help to come and be part of the community of faith. The Eucharist looks to that Day when there will be no more barriers of race or gender or status or religion or nationality, no walls of any kind. All people will be reconciled in the realm of God. And the hope for that day when God will be all in all impels us to do all we can to hasten it. The Eucharist reminds us that Christ identified most strongly with those who were the most needy, that he said if we want to find him, we need to look among the least of our brothers and sisters.

Next Sunday, Pentecost, we celebrate the Eucharist. In preparation, let each of us be a bit more alert to the kairos moments in our lives, be a little more awake to and for God. And most of all, let us look toward that Day when all will gather at God’s Table, as we pray “Come, Lord Jesus.”

—————

For a wonderful reflection on taking time to hear the voice of God, see Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, “The Revelation Will Not Be Televised,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-danya-ruttenberg/the-revelation-will-not-be-televised_b_3247027.html

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