“Therefore, you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” ~Matthew 24:44 (NRSV)
I have always struggled with the apocalyptic and Revelation texts within the Bible. They are too violent, too full of fear, and too often used to terrify people into seeking salvation. I often ignore these texts because I don’t know what to do with them. They bring up painful memories of damaging ideologies involving guilt and hell which I was exposed to in my childhood and adolescence, and this guilt digs its claws into my mind, waiting to interfere when I work to reimagine my faith.
This first reflection was one of the few times I have seen one of these texts in a new light. Throughout Matthew 24, Jesus instructs his listeners to keep watch, to prepare for the unknown coming of the Lord at “the end of the age.” Though I tend to imagine Revelation images of beasts and horror, when I reflected on this passage with today’s reflection words (fuck/rend), I saw a different idea of what it means to keep watch.
My reaction to an imminent second coming is two-fold. On one hand, I am terrified and selfish, thinking of all the things I want to do—learn more, travel, write, fall in love… Yet at the same time, I recognize that my future won’t be the fulfillment of “the American Dream.” We are hurting the world and our lives will change, with or without our consent. In my lament, words often feel inadequate to express my frustration. A grieving mantra of “fuck” can release some pent-up pain. In these times, I want to cry out, “God! Just come now!”
There is so much pain and hatred in the world, and we have seen innumerable, horrible manifestations of this throughout this past year: the vitriolic US election and its aftermath, war in Syria leading to unimaginable violence and ghetto conditions, police aggression and illegal torture of the Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock…
The world is a mess; it’s all fucked up. Just come and rend the pain, the horror, the hatred. Strip it clean. Make us new.
In all of this, it is easy to grow despondent, to want to say “fuck this” and not care anymore. But I cannot stop caring for my fellow humans and for the earth. My faith calls me to work for justice for all creation.
My dad has an interesting theory about the “second coming” that really resonates with me. He says that it has already occurred, at least in part. At Pentecost, shortly after Jesus left the earth, God came again in the Holy Spirit to dwell on earth—God in us, and us in God. In this vision of building the kingdom of God on earth, part of keeping watch is living in this tension of fear and expectation. Instead of waiting for some future time, watching the sky for signs of a descending Deity, we keep watch on the world.
Jesus calls his followers “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). As followers of Jesus, we must live into the call to be prophetic voices for justice in an aching world. To tangibly demonstrate our words with our actions. To live in right relationship with each other and with the earth, knowing that, whether God has already “come again” or whether that is still to come, the God who is Love is here with us and in us, and we are with God and live in God.
So let us keep watch as prophetic people living in the “now” of God’s presence here on earth. This vision of keeping watch isn’t the guilt-driven “oh, fuck,” but the active “fuck this!” Fuck the pain and sin and hatred. Fuck the guilt and fear-mongering. Fuck injustice.
We will keep watch.
We will speak out when our watch sees injustice.
We will work to rend the injustice and work for a new kingdom on earth.
How can we be silent is a beautiful, prophetic hymn by Michael Mahler. You can find all the words here, and can listen to the song here. This recording demonstrates the Mennonite tendency to slow the tempo; I’d recommend taking it a titch faster.
How can we be silent when we know our God is near,
Bringing light to those in darkness, to the worthless, endless worth?
How can we be silent when we are the voice of Christ,
Speaking justice to the nations, breathing love to all the earth?
None can stop the Spirit
Burning now inside us.
We will shape the future.
We will not be silent!