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Apocalypse does not mean the end is nigh

Apocalypse does not mean the end is nigh

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This feels like an apocalypse, like our world is ending, or at least caving in. For a friend who lives in Houston, it looked like an apocalypse when she lost power and water, and then a pipe burst, flooding her home. It sounded apocalyptic when a friend in Austin texted me, “No power. Think I have COVID. Out of drinking water.” Even our church building looked apocalyptic after a burst pipe tore through the ceiling, pouring water through the entire sanctuary. With factors beyond our control threatening our quality of life and even life itself, calling this week’s debacle a winter apocalypse rather than a winter storm seems more appropriate.

In the Bible, however, apocalypse does not mean the end is nigh. The root meaning of the word “apocalypse” from the Book of Revelation means “to uncover, lay bare or disclose.” An apocalypse is a revealing, a pulling back of the veil to expose the hidden realities of our condition, many of which require repentance — a change of direction — if we are to escape life-threatening circumstances and be delivered into the God-dreamed possibilities of abundant life.

For nearly a year, a pandemic has revealed our tendencies to be more anxiously obsessed with a return to an unsustainable normal for the sake of one’s own livelihood than to be urgently concerned with the well-being and the very life of the community, to which each of us is inextricably bound. For the past week, a winter apocalypse has pulled back the veil on the prioritizing of self-preservation over communal salvation in everything from the unregulated control of power determining rolling blackouts during below-freezing conditions to the worrisome hoarding of essential items from grocery store shelves. “Now, more than ever, what is revealed is the fallacy of making individualism the organizing principle of society,” writes Pope Francis in Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. These apocalyptic days are not pointing to the end. Instead, they ask, where do we go from here? and, how shall we live together? Or, as Pope Francis puts it, “What will be our new principle?”

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer, informing what we call The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus says, “Pray like this,” using verbiage that is communal, not individualistic: “Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Us. Our. Everyone.

Crystallizing the lesson, Jesus talks about someone going to their friend at midnight and knocking on their door for bread so they can have enough for someone who has arrived at their home unexpectedly. Initially, the person inside won’t help the neighbor. Eventually, he gets up and gives his friend what he needs to help someone else because of his persistent knocking. The lesson? Knock, because God will open that door to you.

But as it is with all of Jesus’ parables, there are various lessons with timeless meanings to take from this story about a neighbor in need and a friend’s reluctant help. If God opens the door to all who knock, and if opening that door is based on God’s unearned love for us, and if God provides us with our deepest yearnings — our daily bread — not out of so-called deservedness, but by unconditional grace, then shouldn’t each of us, made in the image of this abundantly providing God, do better than answering the door just to make the pestering go away? Shouldn’t our new principle of organizing society be based on gladly helping one another out of mutual friendship than on obligatorily giving support to others only to the extent that such charity will let me get back to what I was doing? Surely, our path to a better future will strive to see the person knocking — their needs, their story, their people they are trying to help — instead of being blinded by our obsession to make the knocking stop for my sake.

Despite an apocalyptic week unveiling so much trouble, the good news is that a new principle is also being revealed. Loving kindness is being uncovered by neighbors with power and water taking in those without. Compassion is being laid bare by people outside our state checking on us Texans, and by those folks saying, “All I can do is donate money, but I want to do more.” The love of neighbor as we love ourselves is being disclosed when that person who grabs the last two dozen eggs from the shelf immediately gives one to the person behind them. The new principle is us, our, everyone; and it is knocking at the door.

On Monday night, we’d been without power all day. Stacy and our daughter were taken in by a neighbor with electricity. Our teenage son and I stayed home with our dog and cat. We put a fire in the fireplace and slept in a heap of blankets, our four-legged family members at our side. At one point in the night, I looked at my son sitting against the wall next to the fire, a hoodie over his head, blankets covering his body. His nose and cheeks were beet red. He looked miserable. It made me angry. And then I looked at him in a different light. I saw my child as anyone out there trying to make it through the bitter cold, as any child of God needing daily bread in the form of lodging, accessibility to power and a basic understanding of their circumstances. It was a revelation of someone — anyone — knocking. Days later, I can’t get that revelation out of my head. I hope I never will, and I pray that God continues laying bare such sobering revelations, encouraging us to rise from these apocalyptic days a changed people with love as our guiding principle for all our sake.

The Rev. Dan De Leon is the pastor of Friends Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, College Station.

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