Wednesday, May 5, 2010

05-02-2010: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 14:21-27 / Psalm 145 / Revelation 21:1-5 / John 13:31-35
St. John waxes poetic, and prophetic, in his Book of Revelation. Today he’s telling of his vision of a new Jerusalem, a holy city, coming down out of heaven. When I think of Jerusalem, though, I don’t think of it as new, but quite old. In 1983 I volunteered to work on an archaeological dig at the City of David, the area in Jerusalem that borders the Kidron Valley as it slopes downhill from the Temple Mount. The excavation unearthed some important finds over the years and I happened to be there when they discovered a stash of ancient bullae that may have been made by the prophet Jeremiah himself at the time of the Babylonian invasion in 587BC. Just recently archaeologists found underground passageways beneath this section of the city that they believe served as hiding places for the Jewish populace as the Romans destroyed the Temple and most of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Jerusalem may be very old (at least 3,000 years old) but discovering its past makes things seem new all the time.

The Book of Revelation has long been the watering-hole for those anxious to make predictions about the future, especially as to when the end of the world will occur. One evangelical group that broadcasts on FM radio has recently been publicizing the date of the end – in just about a year - May, 2011 (sorry I can’t remember the exact date). Others, relying on the ancient Mayan calendar, have set the easy-to-remember date of 12/12/12 as doomsday. At the other end of the prophecy-spectrum I heard that some climate-change enthusiasts are now buying real estate in Greenland, so that when global warming really kicks in - they’ll make a killing.
It seems those that predict the end of the world as immanent always see themselves as crucial, essential to the prediction, the indispensable element in the history of a dispensable world. Old time religionists cite humanity’s terrible sinfulness (read: sexual immorality), as the cause for a violent end-of-the-world scenario. New greener religionists claim that, although earth is some four billion years old, we moderns of the last two centuries, because of our terrible sinfulness (now read: environmental rape), are therefore responsible for the soon-to-be-death of the planet. Talk about seeing yourself as absolutely essential…

Yet, prophecies can come true: they can be “self-fulfilling.” Like the Christian fundamentalists who have allied themselves to the State of Israel, provoking tensions between Israelis and Palestinians (and pushing for the building of a Third Temple) so as to ignite a conflagration in Jerusalem itself - a prerequisite, as they see it, for the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world.

For all the foreboding that many attach to the Book of Revelation, it seems to me an essentially upbeat text. Beneath the doom and gloom lay the experience of beauty and fulfillment, joy and splendor. Its outlook is bright not dark and, far from the destruction of creation, St. John sees its splendor and fulfillment as the dwelling place of God. For God makes all things new, opening up history as an exciting adventure: sort of like imagining Greenland as the new Bermuda, though one might wonder why it was named Greenland to begin with. Could it be that the obscure future is mirrored, always, in the mysterious distant past? We humans are bound by tense and time: past, present and future. But God dwells in the eternal, making all things new, making all things present.

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