Apocalypse of Inclusion
This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith.
I mentioned last week how during Lent, members of my parish are reading the book The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus by Fleming Rutledge. The discussion from earlier this week, on her chapter on Apocalyptic War, underscored for me how very misunderstood the concept of the apocalyptic is, particularly among Christians.
So, this week I’d like to break some myths around the idea of the apocalypse, while also suggesting that an apocalyptic perspective can inspire us to live differently as Christians in our own time.
Though we often think of apocalyptic as any sort of story or concept involving profound war, catastrophe, destruction, violence, or the end of the world, that’s not actually what the word means. The word “apocalypse” comes from Greek word apokalypsis, which simply means revealing or disclosing something that had been hidden.
Apocalypse was used to describe a specific genre of literature that arose in the second century before Christ and persisted into around the second century after the time of Christ. Several pieces of apocalyptic literature found their way into the canon of Scripture, both in the Hebrew Bible and in the Greek New Testament, but others were simply literature that circulated among Jews or Christians in those centuries.
This literature often was written in times of crisis for God’s people as a way for them to understand the crisis they were in and how it might relate to what God is doing in the world. And so, during the 2nd century persecution of the Jewish people, the apocalyptic sections of the book of Daniel gave hope that God was ultimately in control of the world. In the 1st century persecution of Christians, the Revelation to John was written to give hope to Christians that God would, in the end, conquer evil and heal their broken world.
One of my favorite apocalyptic texts is actually not from Revelation—though that is a powerful book, when properly read. Instead, it is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. In the third chapter he writes that he is currently a prisoner for the sake of the Gentiles and that this imprisonment is related to “the mystery [that] was made known to me by revelation.” That word translated as “revelation” is the Greek word apokalpysis.
As the chapter continues, Paul explains that the former generations had not known what God was seeking to do for creation, a plan that was not made known to humanity until the incarnation of Christ and the inspiration of apostles and prophets. What is that plan, you might ask? Paul writes, “That is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
You have to remember, that for a first-century Jewish person, the idea that a Gentile could be a part of the people of God without first becoming Jewish was contrary to everything they had understood in the Hebrew Bible. It was contrary to everything their religion had told them.
Jesus Christ, however, insisted that his life and ministry, his death and resurrection, was the fulfillment of the hopes of the Hebrew Scriptures… and it was also a reinterpretation of them. Because now, through the lens of Christ, the hopes of the post-exilic prophets that all nations would be a part of the people of God could finally be realized.
The post-exilic prophets of Judaism had long believed that this hope would be realized through the conversion of the nations to Judaism. They had never imagined that God would become human in someone like Jesus Christ and create an entirely new form of the people of God, one that did not rest upon the promises of the Old Covenant, but one that rested entirely on the grace of God in reconciling humanity to one another and to God himself.
This mystery that Paul talks about, the mystery of God reconciling all people to himself, a mystery that challenged how Jewish people read Scripture… That mystery is still at work in the church today. In the Episcopal Church, we have insisted that this is the basis for our own insistence on the full place of LGBTQIA+ Christians in the church.
We understand that it is contrary to how people used to read the Bible, how many people still read the Bible today. But we believe the Holy Spirit has moved among the church—and particularly through our LGBTQIA+ siblings in Christ—and the Holy Spirit has shown us that our old reading was flawed, it was distorted by discrimination and the systems of this world which seek to oppress and marginalize.
The Spirit showed us that our LGBTQIA+ siblings have all the fruits of the Spirit. Their relationships are holy and life-giving. They should not be told to somehow different than how God created them. They should not be told to live celibate lives or deny their created identity. Instead, they can teach us, in the words of St. Paul, “the wisdom of God in its rich variety.”
Just like how the Spirit revealed the church was wrong on engaging in religious wars, or slavery, or the role of women… God is always working to unveil and reveal the truth of God’s plan of love and reconciliation. You and I just need to have faith to see it.
Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.