December 16, 2017

Holy Tuesday 2017 – Looking for the End

Almost Home in the Spring. Photo by David Cornwell

Holy Tuesday 2017

These three days, which the Church calls Great and Holy have within the liturgical development of the Holy Week a very definite purpose. They place all its celebrations in the perspective of End ; they remind us of the eschatological meaning of Pascha. …“Now is the Judgment of this world” (John 12:31). The Pascha of Jesus signified its end to “this world” and it has been at its end since then. This end can last for hundreds of centuries this does not alter the nature of time in which we live as the “last time.” “The fashion of this world passeth away…” (I Cor. 7:31).

Orthodox Church in America

• • •

Of all the weeks in the year, Holy Week moves me to think about “ultimate” matters. Life. Death. Life after death. Things to come — the world to come, the age to come. The “end,” the goal, the consummation. Indeed, as the quote above says, this is an intended emphasis of in the Church’s observance of Holy Week, especially on Monday through Wednesday.

The signal events of Christianity involve Jesus dying, being buried, rising from the dead, and ascending into heaven. All these events have some measure of meaning for our daily lives, but their true significance is transcendent. They are events indeed that, by the testimony of scripture, have “cosmic” import — for Israel, for all nations, for all people, for all creation.

Jesus announced that God’s long-awaited kingdom was dawning, and the Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension are presented to us as divine actions that bring God’s reign to light. At Pentecost Peter proclaimed that the last days had arrived. The age to come has invaded the present. A sense of something new causes us to lift up our eyes and look expectantly toward the horizon.

As far as I can tell, Christian faith has always been practiced in the context of eschatological expectation. My early adult days in the context of the Jesus movement was rife with dispensational-style “Jesus is coming” fervor. Discussions, debates, arguments, hard lines of conviction, and even schisms throughout the days of my ministry within evangelicalism often revolved around positions one took regarding the details of various prophetic schemes.

Some of that fervor has abated within evangelicalism over the years, as pragmatism and an emphasis on church growth led many in the movement farther and farther away from doctrinaire fundamentalism.

In the more recent past, scholars such as N.T. Wright, building upon a more narrative-historical approach to scripture, have placed more and more of Jesus’ teachings about “the end” in the context of historical judgments such as the Fall of Jerusalem rather than as matters of “eternal destiny.”

I’ve come to appreciate the hard work of Andrew Perriman at P.OST, who has tried to apply a consistent narrative-historical hermeneutic in his studies of the New Testament.

Perriman builds upon a simple yet far-reaching presupposition: prophecies about God’s judgments and future cataclysms are always about events within history, not harbingers of the end of the world. Both OT and NT share a “geopolitical realism.” No matter how poetic, metaphorical, or apocalyptic the language, the seers and prophets were envisioning things that would take place in the course of ongoing national and international circumstances.

That leads him to conclude that  the destruction of Jerusalem is the primary focus of Jesus’ “end time” teachings. And he also holds that the subsequent prophetic outlook of the NT is targeted toward relatively near events within history, to be specific, the ultimate triumph of Christ and the church over the pagan nations, Rome in particular.

I think the focus has to be on the challenge that this vindicated Jesus movement presented to the oikoumenē or ‘world’ or empire or culture of Greek-Roman paganism. This was the ‘defunct world order’ that the creator God, who had been the God of Israel, would eventually pull down and over which he would reign through the one who had been appointed Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. (Perriman)

To be sure, Perriman does have a futurist eschatology as well, and he sees it particularly in the final chapters of Revelation, where, after God triumphs over “Babylon” (Rome) there is more to come — namely a thousand year period when Christ reigns with the martyrs, followed by a final judgment of all the dead, and the appearance of a new heaven and new earth.

If I read his timeline correctly, we find ourselves in that “thousand years” following the victory of God and his King over the Roman empire. “Christendom” is the formal name for the public vindication and triumph of Christianity over the pagan empires. We now live in “post-Christendom,” a time which Perriman suggests is “off the radar of the New Testament”

With a wink of the eye and a chuckle, Perriman calls his scheme, “Double Post-tribulational Pre-Amillennialism.” (I’d so love to throw that line at one of my old professors!) And, like all good prophetic teachers, Andrew has a chart:

Whatever you might think about Andrew Perriman’s interpretation, there is one thing I really like about it. It puts you and me squarely in no-man’s land. We — living when we do — have no idea what’s to come, except in the broadest of terms, expressed in apocalyptic language at the end of the book of Revelation.

We today, after the triumph of Christendom and before the last judgment, are living in an eschatological wilderness. Perhaps that’s why no detailed prophetic program that purports to describe “history before it happens” has ever appealed to me.

So, in a sense, I’m as much in the dark this Holy Week as the disciples were on the first one. Maybe even more, for they had at least had a historical context that led them to expect some kind of imminent historical upheaval. As Perriman writes, “For the disciples on the mount of Olives what loomed large when Jesus directed their minds towards the future was the war against Rome and the destruction of the temple.”

As for me, if, on Holy Tuesday, I am called to lift up my head and look forward to what’s coming because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, I have to confess my hopes are vague and my expectation beset with riddles.

Commence lament mode: “How long, O Lord?”

• • •

Photo by David Cornwell at Flickr.

Comments

  1. My mind associates this with the Foundation Series: where (if I recall correctly) with passing millennia reality started to diverge from what the ‘science-prophet’ foretold…

    • I read that series every few years or so. It kinda did, yet kinda didn’t. What really threw it off was the appearance of an anomaly (the Mule).

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      I am just going through the Audiobook version of that again….

  2. Robert F says:

    I don’t believe that the church actually triumphed over the pagan nations, or Rome in particular, so I can’t accept Perriman’s interpretation. I believe that the church eventually (over a couple of centuries) accommodated itself to time and the world as it is, for better and worse; that was unavoidable, but I don’t see any clear triumph in it, except that the church secured its own existence in the world, at least to a degree. The power of the state was no longer against the church, or at least the church as it’s traditionally understood. It no longer had to turn the other cheek; is that a triumph?

    But the idea that we live squarely in no-man’s land is something I can wholly agree with. Neither the New Testament nor the church know the specifics of the future, except that we trust that Jesus is our beginning, middle and end. That’s the extent of End Times prophecy, as far as I’m concerned.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I don’t believe that the church actually triumphed

      While I am not as pessimistic as you – I feel Christianity had huge wins, exerted tremendous influence, and was a great boon to western civilization – I also have difficulty seeing a “triumph”.

      Christianity, or at least the Church, currently feels spent. But who knows? It only takes a few % of people to move the needle – if they are cohesive and well organized. Not knowing the future cuts both ways.

      > we live squarely in no-man’s land… That’s the extent of End Times prophecy

      We agree on that.

      • Robert F says:

        I still see the church as accommodating to Empire with the Constantinian arrangement, rather than triumphing over it. Yes, there were some improvements made by institutionalized Christianity to the Empire, on the one hand; perhaps we can count those as strategic victories. But on the other hand, the church drank deeply from the well of imperialism, and has had a hard time giving up its addiction to that water. This makes it impossible for me to see the imperial arrangement as a triumph; any attempt to return to the imperial arrangement would be retrograde, and a retreat to ground we as church should not command.

        We agree that the future is open, not sealed up in any book of prophecy. There is indeed much hope in this openness. May we work with God to fructify what is ahead.

        • I tend to agree with you, Robert, but I’ve been wondering all day if perhaps we are applying too high a standard to the word “triumph.”

          For example, I wonder if we would call the triumphs of Israel recorded as such in scripture as real triumphs of God if we had been there to witness what actually happened and the results.

          Perriman, as far as I understand it, puts his emphasis on the end of persecution as imperial policy and the public affirmation of Jesus as Lord by the empire as sufficient for a definition of triumph.

          Are we expecting too much?

          • I think that defining “triumph” as the nominal cessation of persecution of the primary orthodox church within the bounds of the Roman Empire is a far too parochial definition.

          • Robert F says:

            If the empire hadn’t, on behalf of the church, gone on to persecute other religions, as well as heretical and heterodox Christians, I think it would be right to call it a triumph, and a great one. But the end of persecution as imperial policy is a mixed victory when we consider what actually happened.

            I also have come to believe from what I’ve read that persecution of Christianity as empire-wide imperial policy was not the normal practice; it was in fact rare, occurring systematically perhaps three times over the centuries, and for a few years each time. Local persecutions were more frequent, but still not normal, and there were many places and times throughout the empire where and when Christians could lead their lives unmolested by the local authorities and populace. The vast majority of Christians did in fact lead such quiet and unmolested lives.

            When the church gained the favor of the empire, and started writing the official histories, it magnified the age of the martyrs, inflating the numbers of martyrs and the frequency with which persecutions occurred, as well as their duration. This is partly understandable, since the time right before Constantine’s edicts allowing and then favoring Christianity had been perhaps the most intense time of persecution, particularly under Diocletian. Naturally the newly delivered church would remember recent events foremost. But that doesn’t mean that its memories of what happened in the earlier times was correct; there is evidence to indicate that it wasn’t. But it was congenial to the church to remember things otherwise. We still have a tendency to think over those centuries as one long spasm of persecution, but it was not so. If it had been, the church would not have survived.

          • Robert F says:

            The Christianized empire persecuted other religions and Christian heretics/heterodox far more systematically and persistently than the pagan empire did the church. This is something of which we as members of one contiguous Christian church should repent on behalf of our religious forbears.

    • Here’s Perriman’s more detailed defense of Christendom as the victory of God over pagan empire:

      http://www.postost.net/2011/05/christendom-victory-god

      • Robert F says:

        I find Perriman’s defense unconvincing. It privileges the perspective of the imperial church as normative in a way I don’t think is warranted by history. There was good and bad in the imperial church, yes; but the most significant part of the badness was that the imperial church was filled with hubris, and was unaware of its blind spots, and even stubbornly refused to become aware of them, until the Enlightenment project forced the issue. Trying to recapture the imperial mode of church would be to go backward into a nonexistent past

    • Also, regardless of whether or not one accepts Perriman’s scheme, the final few paragraphs of today’s post are where my emphasis lies.

      We are in an eschatological wilderness, and one weakness of most other prophetic interpretations that I’ve been exposed to is that they assume the NT (and/or the OT) has some pretty specific things to say to our generation with regard to “things to come.” I just don’t think that’s the case.

      • Robert F says:

        Totally agree that the NT and OT are unable to address our situation with specificity.

      • Robert F says:

        It would have behooved the early church (and us!) if in the first flush of Constantine’s toleration and then favor it had somehow been able to understand that it too was in an eschatological wilderness….living squarely in no-man’s land…

  3. David Cornwell says:

    I like reading Perriman as he always makes me think in ways I have not before. In principle I like the narrative-historical approach to interpretation. However Perriman almost always leaves me confused, probably because I dip into his posts somewhere along the line and have not worked it all out in my own mind yet.

    But reading history, and in particular the history of the Church I fail to see where the Church has been victorious over the nations, or even consistent in its own internal life, many times contributing in a negative way to the chaos of the world. At the same time I do see the great contributions the Church has made to the world. But it has often strayed, portrayed in my lifetime by its compromises with fascist regimes and leaders like Hitler.

    I’m in the process of reading Timothy Snyder’s Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. In it he quotes Ericka M. who with astonishment says “Overnight! This was all overnight.” He says “Years later Erika M. still could not hide her astonishment at the collapse of Austria, at the end of her country, on the night of the eleventh of March, in the pivotal year of 1938.”

    I’m struck by the suddenness of events and the surprise and shock by which they grab us. And the negative collusion of the Church or its authorities while they taking place. The political events of the past year in the US can also serve as illustration. We have elevated to our highest political post a man who lies without compunction. Andrea Mitchell makes the following observation “People Just Flat-Out Lie.” She’s covered seven presidents during her time as a reporter. She says “I’ve never seen anything like this.” And without question a large chunk of the Church is responsible for putting this man into office, and endorsing his actions since that time. And to make matters worse, a favorite of the Church, Vice President Mike Pence, an outspoken evangelical stands behind him giving his seal of approval to his words and actions.

    The narrative of history unfolds slowly over the pages of time, but sudden events interrupt and surprise us. They happen quickly and produce shock and awe. The numbness felt by so many caused by our recent election is still with many if us. Ericka M., quoted above, was a Jew. Overnight her world was changed, never to again be the same.

    I not familiar enough with Perriman’s scheme of things to know how he works the shocking and surprising interruptions into the long narrative. But I do believe that we as a Church need to be alert, awake, and waiting.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And without question a large chunk of the Church is responsible for putting this man into office, and endorsing his actions since that time.

      And they follow him, and marvel, saying “Who is like unto The Trump? Who can stand before him?”

      (Ever notice how GOD’s Anointed choice for POTUS gets sketchier and sketchier with each election cycle?

      And to make matters worse, a favorite of the Church, Vice President Mike Pence, an outspoken evangelical stands behind him giving his seal of approval to his words and actions.

      You mean the Supreme Commander of Holy Gilead?
      Power Behind the Throne (at least in his own mind)?

  4. If we are in the “symbolic millennium” it leaves a bit to be desired. I don’t sense Satan being bound, even symbolically, or Christ ruling with a rod of iron just yet. What I do see is the spirit of Antichrist in the world today. It is foolish to second-guess the Apostle John. Maybe only those who have been boiled in oil and exiled to the isle of Patmos should try to.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Doesn’t stop any Hal Lindsay or Jack Van Impe or Tim LaHaye from coming out of the woodwork and trying. (ANd getting very very rich from it.)

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    We today, after the triumph of Christendom and before the last judgment, are living in an eschatological wilderness. Perhaps that’s why no detailed prophetic program that purports to describe “history before it happens” has ever appealed to me.

    So much for the detailed End Times Prophecy charts and checklists, “history written in advance” choreographed almost down to the minute. Or should that be down to “any minute now”?

    Having everything planned and predestined in advance is a lot more attractive than being on your own in no-man’s land.

    P.S. Punch in “End Times” on YouTube and Enjoy Your Trip… And it is trippy. Salvia-level trippy. Just last night the comment thread in one cryptid encounter weird video went all End Times — lotsa True Experiences about how Dogman and Bigfoot are really Nephilim and can be dispelled by rebuking them in The Name of The LORD and how such cryptid Demons are becoming more common — could that be a sign of (whisper) The Rapture?

  6. Burro [Mule] says:

    Thank God Lent isn’t the last word!! I am so sick of broccoli, shrimp, spinach, haba beans, hummus and quinoa I could scream.

    Thank God Neil Young isn’t the last word, or Ian Curtis, or Conor Oberest, or Trent Reznor, or Amy Winehouse, or Bon Iver. I’m taking ol’ Neil off the playlist and replacing him with Mike Oldfield’s latest. Nice Easter-y music for this decaying boomer.

    Thank GOD Trump isn’t the last word, or Clinton, or Schumer, or Ryan, or Putin, or Kim Jong-un. They may yet irridate my bones, but they don’t have the last word.

    Pascha’s right around the corner, and I can already feel the pace quickening. In another sense, Pascha is perpendicular to all times and places, so it’s always present. You just have to always turn in a different direction.

  7. Speculation. That seems to be what the disciples did when Jesus told them he was going to be killed and when he told them that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. What did he really mean? We seem to be doing the same thing today with two thousand years under our belt. What is going on? What does it really mean? Who can tell us?

    I have mentioned my perception that we seem to be in the midst of the World System finally being taken back from the Luciferian Dark Forces that have controlled it for countless millennia and allowed Satan to offer the kingdoms of the world to Jesus as a huge bribe. That did not seem to change when Jesus died. This is met with cries of “tinfoil hat” and “conspiracy theory” and “where’s your proof”. Meanwhile desperate battles appear to continue behind the scenes, unreported in the mainstream media. It is difficult to deal with.

    The death of Jesus gave us the opening of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, the release of the captives of Sheol including us, and his ascension gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, if received, including spiritual discernment. The Western church seems to have ignored or distorted all three, or even added them to the list of things at which to scoff and sneer. I would say that figuring out probabilities of actuality in the morass of information and misinformation and disinformation and rabbit holes online requires spiritual discernment along with critical thinking. I would say that spiritual discernment requires practiced use of God’s Holy Spirit, and there I’ve lost 90% of any agreement. And critical thinking requires an open mind. There goes the other 10%.

    The Holy Spirit, or the Mind of Christ if you prefer, lies well outside the comfort zone of most Christians. I would say that most people prefer to depend on their five senses and intellect and programmed beliefs while sneering at anything else. I would say that most people probably just will wait until it’s all over, if that’s what actually happens this time around, and it is announced on television so that all can believe.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I have mentioned my perception that we seem to be in the midst of the World System finally being taken back from the Luciferian Dark Forces that have controlled it for countless millennia and allowed Satan to offer the kingdoms of the world to Jesus as a huge bribe. That did not seem to change when Jesus died. This is met with cries of “tinfoil hat” and “conspiracy theory” and “where’s your proof”. Meanwhile desperate battles appear to continue behind the scenes, unreported in the mainstream media.

      Again, PRESENT SPECIFIC EXAMPLES. SHOW US SOME EXAMPLES. SHOW YOUR WORK AND TELL US HOW YOU CAME TO THIS CONCLUSION. You have a Mysterious-sounding Thesis Statement — where’s the rest of the paper?

      Otherwise I can search YouTube on “End Times” or “Illuminati” and get the same generalities about “World Systems” and “Luciferian Dark Forces” and “Desperate Battles Unreported in the [Global Elite’s] Mainstream Media”. How do you differ from all these do-it-yourself Web Illuminati acting Mysterious(TM) with your Sekrit Gnosis of what’s REALLY going on? What makes your claims credible and not theirs?

      • Look up Jordan Sather at Destroying the Illusion on YouTube and check out enough of his reports to get a feel for what he reports on. Make sure it is his channel and not a rip off. He is independent and seems to have no agenda other than to collect as many pieces of the puzzle as possible and present them for critical thought and analysis. If you are the kind of person who thinks that one piece of information you disagree with means it’s all bad, don’t bother. If you can’t suspend judgement and entertain a thought without having to believe it, don’t bother. This is sort of a Reader’s Digest of alternative news, not a compendium of absolute truth. I’m not going to discuss this here. If what you see interests you, email me if you want more sources. If you consider it on the same level as Coast to Coast, you need to do some work on improving your discernment. I’m not making claims and I’m not here to argue. If you think that what is reported on television is the full truth, you’re welcome to your belief and you have a lot of company. If you want to wedge your mind open a little, I commend you, but I am not here to suffer your abusive demands.

  8. Robert F says:

    Remember the moon?
    It disappeared this morning —
    Here it is again.

  9. Dana Ames says:

    Fr Stephen’s latest – The Bridegroom and Judgment – is a very good meditation for Holy Week.

    Dana