Last fall, at an out-of-town gathering among clergy friends, I admitted that I felt like I was repeatedly preaching the same four-point sermon: the world is a mess, we have reason to despair, but the future is in God’s hands, therefore we have hope. The backdrop then was increasing polarization in our country, anxiety about a government failing to govern equitably, increasing economic disparity across the globe, and mounting concerns about climate change which is related to all the rest.
That was before the pandemic, before the protests, before we heard George Floyd dying while gasping to police officers, “I can’t breathe,” and before the President of the United States parted peaceful protesters with tear gas in order to create a pathway to St. John’s Church for a photo op with Bible in hand.
There’s a sermon in there: The world is a mess, we have reason to despair, but the future is in God’s hands, therefore we have hope. But it’s missing a point. Somewhere between despair and God’s future is our Christian calling.
Yesterday, when the stress of the pandemic and protests around the country were compounded by a severe storm that took out the power all around the church, I received a handful of emails and texts asking if we were facing the Apocalypse! These messages came in jest, of course, but even the kidding these days has an undercurrent of extreme stress. In secular parlance, the word apocalypse conjures up a catastrophic end, a complete and final destruction, and in religious terms it evokes an end time when God will ultimately destroy the powers of evil and raise human community into a redeemed life in the messianic kingdom.
But we would do well, these days, to remember the root meaning of the Greek word. Apocalypse does not so much mean a catastrophic undoing as it means an uncovering. We are witnessing a much-needed uncovering of the insidious and multivalent nature of institutional racism in America. The disproportionate number of black and brown people dying from COVID-19 and dying in the hands of police custody are but two examples of systemic racism.
Disciples of Jesus Christ are being called to this apocalyptic moment to look carefully at what is being uncovered, to confess our complicity in injustice, to unmask our loyalties to corrupt systems and institutions, and to find our way forward faithfully. Today’s apocalyptic moment cannot be wasted for the wake-up call that it is, if we have any hope in God’s future.