“See, I am making all things new.”
The emerging big question facing world governments is not just how we end the Corona pandemic, but how do we restart the world once the lockdown ends. We do not know when this will become possible, or how it will be managed, but sooner or later we will have to push the reset button. But how do we remake the world? The answer depends on what kind of world we want or, better, what kind of world we need. There is widespread agreement among concerned people that we cannot and should not return to what was considered normal. We have to redouble our efforts to make the world more just, treble our efforts to overcome poverty, and at the very least, save the environment and develop better and more inclusive health policies. In short, if we want to survive as the human race and live in a healthier world, we must work against the conditions which spell disaster.
At times like these many fundamentalist Christians put their hope in the imminent second coming of Jesus to right all wrongs, and think it is pointless to work for political, economic and social change for only God can sort out the chaos. So they turn to the book of Revelation in search of clues that predict the “end times” when Christ will come again and establish God’s kingdom and all will be well. Also known as the Apocalypse of St. John, the book’s unfolding drama has not only captured the imagination of many seers and poets through the ages but also raised popular hopes and fears whenever wars, earthquakes, floods and plagues occur, the horsemen of the Apocalypse who warn us of what is to come. Speculation about who is the anti-Christ and when the battle of Armageddon will be fought reach fever pitch. But the book was not written to predict what might happen in the twenty-first century, it was written to encourage the early church at a time of great persecution. And while much of its symbolism and imagery resonates with our times, as it has in previous times, its enduring message is that God reigns and through the death and resurrection of Christ has conquered the powers of darkness that threaten to destroy us. As Christians we are always living in the “end times” for these began when God raised Christ from the dead. The resurrection of Christ was the beginning of a new creation in which God is “making all things new.” When we declare “Christ will come again” we anticipate the fulfillment of all things. But, to quote Jesus, “the end is not yet!” (I have written about this in my book The End is not Yet which, some readers tell me, is even more relevant today than when it was published in 2017.)
In my last meditation I referred to the Fall of the Tower of Babel and the global confusion and strife which resulted. The Book of Revelation (ch. 18) returns to that symbolic event in order to describe the end result of human arrogance and corruption, when kings and “the merchants of the earth” “weep and mourn…since no one buys their cargo anymore!” (v. 11) The warning of John the Seer is that if the world continues along the path of injustice, violence and disregard for the environment, it will eventually collapse. This is the framework in which he speaks of the “Lamb that was slain” and the “great multitude” singing “Hallelujah” because Christ has triumphed over evil. And this makes possible the birth of a “new heaven and a new earth” beyond suffering, tears and mourning. The good news is not only that we have “been raised to newness of life in the risen Christ” but also that the world has been given a new start for in Christ God is remaking of the world.
Resurrection Sunday, then, is the first day of the new creation, and every Sunday when we break bread together, we anticipate the coming of God’s kingdom “out of heaven to earth.” That is why we pray “Your kingdom come on earth as in heaven.” This is God’s work in progress, the vision that keeps hope alive, energizes us in working for justice and peace, and encourages us in our witness to the death and resurrection of Christ. If anyone is in Christ he or she is part of this new creation already, however its scope is not just the rebirth of us as individuals, but of humanity and the whole of creation. Thus the Christian church from the beginning has been a global movement, not a religious society separated from God’s world, but an instrument of God’s love for the world.
There are many ironies that have come to the fore during this time of the plague. One is surely that just when it seemed that globalism, which gathered momentum after the end of the Cold Wat, was coming to an end with the return of nationalism its opposition to global institutions, the Corona pandemic is demonstrating that humanity is far more than a conglomerate of individuals and nations, it is a global village in which “if one suffers we all suffer, and if one rejoices we all rejoice.” The food chain today, if nothing else, demonstrates that we are all dependent on what is grown and manufactured elsewhere in the world. There is an interconnectedness between all the peoples of the earth which we forget at our peril even if global institutions have faults. Presidents and nations can build walls to keep us separate, they can pass apartheid laws to segregate races, but no walls or laws can prevent hurricanes from blowing across borders or invisible viruses moving across the face of the earth. And when that happens “no one is an island”, whether it is Fiji, the UK, or South Africa. If someone sneezes in China, the whole world can be infected by a deadly virus because we humans and with us all of nature is bound together in the same global fabric.
Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings
in the forests of Brazil
set off a tornado in Texas?
Does the swish of a lion’s tail
in the African veld
set off an avalanche in the Alps?
Does the whisper of a rumor
over coffee in the office
set off a storm in the suburbs?
And does an outburst of anger
at the family meal
set off a cloudburst in the community,
which in turn affects
every other creature
on the earth? (Isobel de Gruchy)
Whether we like it or not we are all part of a global community in which we need each other if we are going to survive and flourish. And it is to this remaking of the world, a world of global justice and peace that we as Christians bear witness when we declare that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” And we do so because we believe that in Christ God is “making all things new” and is calling us to participate in that task. That is the mission of the church and our motivation in participating in the remaking of the world beyond the plague.
John de Gruchy Volmoed 16 April, Easter 1 Lock