Thursday, August 31, 2006

Leave the (Left Behind) Nonsense Behind

Michangelo's Final Judgment

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, continued last week his catechesis for the Wednesday General Audience on the apostles. It was his third catechesis devoted to the apostle John. In his third Johannine catechesis, the Holy Father focused the Book of Revelation or, in its Greek-inspired name- αποκαλυψις, or, transliterated apokalypsis. Meaning, literally, the lifting of the veil. It has come to define a genre in Biblical literature having to do with eschatology (eschaton meaning last). Hence, it has come to be used to describe something like, as Benedict puts it in his teaching, "the idea of an impending catastrophe" .

The success in recent years of the abysmal Left Behind series of books makes it all the more important to look at this book, which has been the cause of so much weirdness among Christians. The effect of Left Behind on popular Christian religious imagination reminds me of a passage from Marilynn Robinson's wonderful novel Gilead in which the main charcter, a Congregational minister named John Ames, says that he blames television and radio preachers "for sowing a good deal of confusion where theology is concerned." He laments that one "can spend forty years teaching people to be awake to the fact of mystery and then some fellow[s] with no more theological sense than a jackrabbitt," in the present case, writes himself a series of books "and all your work is forgotten."

In this Revelation/Apocalypse/Unveiling the objective, according to il Santo Padre, is "to unveil, from the death and resurrection of Christ, the meaning of human history." But to read the book with understanding requires reading in "the context of the dramatic experience of the seven Churches of Asia, " which, "toward the end of the first century had to face great difficulties- persecutions and even internal difficulties - in their witnessing of Christ". He continues, "John's Revelation, though full of constant references to sufferings, tribulations and weeping - the dark face of history - at the same time presents frequent songs of praise, which represent, so to speak, the luminous face of history."

This brings us to the heart of Benedict's teaching, in which the Book of Revelation places us "before the typical Christian paradox, according to which, suffering is never perceived as the last word; rather it is seen as a passing moment to happiness and, what is more, the latter is already mysteriously permeated with the joy that springs from hope". The Holy Father insists that "Above all" it means our "awaiting of the Lord's definitive victory, of the new Jerusalem, of the Lord who comes and transforms the world. But, at the same time, it is also a Eucharistic prayer: 'Come, Jesus, now!' And Jesus comes, he anticipates his definitive coming" by making himself Present in and through the Eucharist.

Finally, the Pope teaches us, "John, the Seer of Patmos, can end his book with a final aspiration, in which an ardent hope palpitates. He invokes the Lord's final coming: 'Come, Lord Jesus!'" (Revelation 22:20). It is one of the central prayers of nascent Christianity, translated also by St. Paul in Aramaic: 'Marana tha.'".

This one word prayer puts me in mind of a song written and recorded by Michael Card, a fabulous contemporary song-writer, that is on his album Present Reality. This album and song are very dear to me as I was introduced to Michael Card's music shortly after becoming a Christian and just revelled in it, learned from it, prayed it, and I still do.

Maranatha is a cry of the heart/That's hopeful yet weary of waiting/While it may be joyful with the burden it bears/It' sick with anticipating/To long for the Promised One day after day/And the promise that soon he'd return/It's certain that waiting is the most bitter lesson/A believing heart has to learn

Chorus: Maranatha How many more moments must this waiting last/Maranatha, we long for the time when all time is past/A commotion, a call then that will be all/Though it's not yet the hour/The minutes are ticking away

Maranatha is the shout of the few/Who for so long in history've been hiding/Who truly believe that the sound of that call/Might actually hasten His coming/For no eye has seen and no ear has yet heard/And no mind has ever conceived/The joy of the moment when He will appear/To the wonder of all who believe

Chorus: Maranatha How many more moments must this waiting last/Maranatha, we long for the time when all time is past/A commotion, a call then that will be all/Though it's not yet the hour/The minutes are ticking away

No comments:

Post a Comment