We’ve all experienced a moment of being entirely covered in sweat. I had one of those moments at a truly inconvenient time. During one of my final meetings to be approved for ordination, I was asked, “Sandra – what will the end times look like?”
Sweat. Everywhere. Instantly. You see, I have a confession to make: I’m one of those Christians. I’m one of the Christians who actively avoids conversations of the end times, let alone the book of Revelation. I’ve seen prophesies of end times be hurtful and exclusive, full of judgment and hate, believing in a God whose actions seek to harm rather than love. In addition, I believe the future is not mine to predict.
So, reflecting on today’s lectionary got me feeling sweaty. In Revelation 10, between chapters of judgment, John writes of a powerful messenger coming down from heaven, straddling land and sea, who inspires the sounding of seven mysterious thunders. Instead of telling him to write what he has heard, a voice from heaven tells John to eat a bittersweet scroll from the hands of this heavenly messenger. With the promise of God’s fulfillment to be made known upon the appearance of the seventh angel, this passage ends with John being told “You must prophecy again about many people and nations and languages and kings.” In other words, “the work is not yet done; go and proclaim God’s Word.”
As I searched beyond my own confusion regarding the interpretation of this text, I found myself reflecting on the amazing storytelling ability of John in this passage. I can see, and even taste, this story. We are in John’s vision of the fulfillment of God’s coming. We know that John is writing in the apocalyptic style. This genre of end times writing was common in early Christianity, with a dozen or more non-canonical apocalyptic texts known from this time period. Apocalyptic writing might be akin to what we call “science fiction” today – a wondering for the future we cannot know. The book of Revelation, and this passage, are snapshots of the vision and wonder of our early Christian siblings from one point of view. What can we gain from reflecting on this book and passage, paired with the knowledge of today’s popular literary styles?
Stephen Colbert once said, “As far as I can tell, a young adult novel is a regular novel that people actually read.” I have to agree. In many book stores, Young Adult Fiction is prominently displayed in store fronts, no longer hidden on an odd shelf or two in the back. Imagine what someone 2,000 years from now will think of us, judging only by the popular literature genres of our time.
For example, in young adult writing, we are coming off a wave of dystopic novels commanding both publication and the box office. What would one assume picking up a copy of The Hunger Games or Divergent? Are we a people so fearful of our future that all we can imagine is a world in which power and greed lead us to our destruction? Are we a people actively searching for a new savior because we feel left behind by the ones we once had? Are we a people left looking towards young people as agents of change?
Like John, we must decide if our vision is that of peace or of destruction.
Still, I believe there is good news here. Dystopic novels do not top must-read booklists as they once did. Today, there is a surge of published literature written by and about those who have been on the margins of history. Book lists engaging the kaleidoscope of human experience are easier to find than in years past, and are even more engaging to read. These books tell stories of voices that have been left unheard, stories that beg to be shared and not forgotten.
I believe 2,001 years from now we will look back and see a new vision of the end times beginning in popular literature. This is a future where masses of dedicated disciples leaned in to a vision of hope, recognizing that all voices must be heard, cherished, and valued.
Revelation is a glimpse into the fear and imagination of early Christians. Today, we too have an invitation to engage in the creative work of living in to discipleship.
In that meeting, a moment that would impact my future, I said, “I don’t know what the end times will look like, but I know what it will feel like.” I might not share in the visions of John, but I do believe the God of compassion, justice, and mercy will create for us an end time where all are enveloped in a loving embrace that we have yet to touch, to see, or to taste, even if that embrace is a little sweaty.