Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 23:37-24:14) transports me to a 1987 R.E.M. video, as a shaky camera films a young skateboarder rifling through random junk/treasure from an old abandoned farmhouse, all to the music of some rap-like lyrics that send ideas and images to the viewer with rapid eye movement speed: That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane – Lenny Bruce is not afraid. Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn, world serves its own needs – and before I know it the chaos is calmed with the chorus, It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine. After the chorus the fine feelings are assaulted by more manic phrases fired off in machine-gun fashion: Step down, step down. Watch a heel crush, crush. Uh oh, this means no fear – cavalier. Renegade and steer clear! A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies. . . and then the reassurance of feeling fine at the end of everything we know in this world, followed by another onslaught.
My mind lingers on a phrase in the first verse that brings me back to today’s passage: Tell me with the rapture and the reverent. I can imagine that Jesus’ barrage of bad news/good news words of the world coming to an end soared over the disciples’ heads much as R.E.M.’s words soar over mine. How could they take it all in? They listened to themselves churn as so much of their familiar world was set to crumble around them. Was this a good thing or a bad thing? It all depended on one’s perspective. Some of the disciples may have felt the sentiments of the closing line of the R.E.M. song, It’s time I had some time alone. Hopefully, one line from Jesus’ rap would have stuck with them: Don’t be alarmed. Don’t be alarmed when all this deep doo hits the fan, Don’t be alarmed at the wars, the rumors of war, the false messiahs, the natural disasters. This is a good line for us to remember in these end times, when the world as we knew it is transforming right before our eyes, documented by every news station and talk show. The problem is, these talking heads do little more than raise alarm after alarm. While Jesus wants us to feel fine, they want us to be afraid. Be very afraid.
I say listen to Jesus and turn off the talking heads. Don’t be alarmed. The world is coming to an end, as we know it. There’s the key phrase – as we know it. The known world teaches us how things operate, what the rules of the game are, who wins and who loses. For our times, this world is pretty clear. Dog eat dog and mighty crush the weak, as Langston wrote. Them that’s got shall get, and them that’s not shall lose, as Billie sang. And here comes Jesus, cluing us in that the world won’t always be understood this way. That known world is coming to an end. So feel fine; this is only the beginning of birth pangs. And those who have eyes to see might be around to witness a new world birthed from the very imagination of God. (That will take some serious Rapid Eye Movement.) So let’s create a back beat rhythm dissonant to the world’s dirge and rap our own slightly amended Gloria Patri as we eagerly await God’s final push and the the newborn’s first cry: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be, world with end, Amen, Amen. Oh yeah, all right.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.