I've been reading some art history of the late 20th Century, and there's always discussions of modernism and postmodernism and whether those terms refer to a time frame or style or content.
I'm not really here to talk about all that.
The terms themselves have always amused me. The modern era in art is past, some say even the postmodern era is over and done. Postmodern is already sounding futuristic, taking place as it does after the modern era. In dance circles, it's in vogue to speak of "contemporary dance" rather than "modern dance," but again does this mean we're in a "contemporary era" or does it refer to a style?
But I'm not really here to talk about that, either.
I've also been thinking a lot about the state of the world. Yes, it always seems bad, yes there are always terrible things happening somewhere. It also feels like my particular nation, these United States, is in a particular mess. The polarization of the nation feels like it's gettingw worse, the poles drifting farther apart. Race relations seem to be more strained than they have been in decades. Women's rights are under fire. Gay and Lesbian folk have made some advances recently, but there's also push back that has targeted transgender folk in frightening ways. Over all, progress made for equality and civil rights are not only stalled but feel like they they're sliding backwards. The current election cycle is feeding (or feeding off of) these circumstances.
I've had a few friends on Facebook say things like, "Now would be a good time for that giant meteor" or, depending on their particular religious bent, "Now's a good time to come back, Jesus."
And as I read about modernism and postmodernism and thought about what those words mean, the thought crossed my mind, "Well, we Christians have always lived in the end times."
This amused me but I also stand behind it, too.
From the very start, the earliest Christian literature spoke of Jesus returning and they understood that would be the end of time. Some sects refused to marry in anticipation of the world ending. As generations died and time continued marching on, these expectations and hopes altered some, but even today, 2 millennia down the line, we still speak of Christ's return and we still have a multitude of sects that will explain what we mean by that differently and live our lives in many different ways according to those explanations.
I needed to think about that because honestly I'm feeling a little hopeless lately. And despite the apparent contradictions, for Christians, the "end times" are not really about death and destruction. Ultimately, the belief that we are living in the "last days" is a belief full of hope.
Because it's not really the end. It's a reset. It's a bringing into fullness the Reign of God (which has already begun in the preaching of Jesus). It is all things made new. It's not a "pie in the sky" but the hope of a new creation. Don't pay attention to the peddlers of fear and anxiety. The Revelation that John on Patmos received is ultimately about the world getting another chance
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away." [Revelation 21:1-5]
Yes, some of the talk of end times or last days in the Bible speak of wars and famine and disease---horrific things will happen and are happening now. I believe that the earliest Christians felt the same fear and uncertainty we do and they also worked to alleviate suffering among their communities. They did not live hopeless lives. They trusted that the Reign of God was at hand, here and still coming, even as they showed compassion for their neighbor, even in the face of the threat of death for doing so.
May we likewise look at our current situation and not lose hope but repent---turn around---and see that the Reign of God is at hand, even---or maybe especially---in troubling, uncertain, and violent times. May we have the courage to live into the love of God in Christ, even in the face of our own death, until there is no more mourning, crying, or pain. May we live into the post-end-times era, beginning even now. Amen.