The end is near!
At the turning of the liturgical year, the eschatological readings come at us. For the next two weeks, the lectionary presents the Book of Revelation.
And we should always be startled by that indispensable handbook for living.
It begins: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must happen soon; Christ signified (esēmanen) it by sending it (aposteilas) through His angel to His servant, John, who testified (emartyrēsen) to the Logos of God and to the testimony (martyrian) of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Rev 1:1-2).
Here’s the deepest apostolic succession: from Father to Son to angel to human servant of the mission, who must be a faithful witness of the Faithful Witness, a martyr of the Martyr.
This is communication of the Word. This is revelation.
All of Scripture, indeed the entirety of cosmos and history, is the apocalypse of the Father, the unveiling of the infinite abyss of divine faithfulness and mercy: the Father’s plan of loving goodness.
In chapter 5, the Lamb must receive from the hand of the Father the scroll of world history. The Father is the Source of all there is, in eternity and in time. And everything the Father has to give us, He gives through His Son.
The Father must reveal His plan to His Son (“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him…”), for the Son receives everything from the Father. That’s no derogation from the divine dignity of the Son: this is exactly HOW the Son is God.
So, when Jesus emphatically states, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:31-32, and Matthew 24:36), He is not playacting, or splitting theological hairs. He is affirming His divinity AS the Son. (That is, Jesus isn’t a unitarian!)
Again, Jesus is emphatic when asked before His Ascension when the Kingdom will be established: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by His own authority” (Acts 1:7).
It’s not that Jesus doesn’t enjoy the beatific vision in His human intellect, which He does. It’s that the eternal Son is WHO HE IS: God FROM God, God Who receives everything directly from the Father. He is simply, “Son of the Father,” as the Gloria puts it so straightforwardly.
And the Son shows us how to be who we are each meant to be: integral human development for each of us means becoming a person in an existence that receives itself entirely from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. We are to become “sons” in the Son.
And that means receiving time (and therefore history) in the grueling posture of patience. When will the Kingdom come? When will the victims of history be vindicated? When will justification blossom into glorification? When will our suffering end?
Well, what does Jesus say in the Synoptic Apocalypse from Luke we heard at Mass on Sunday, when He prophesies the destruction of the Temple and the end of the world?
“Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”
His answer: there will be messianic pretenders (who will meet our hunger for signs, our anguished need to know where we are on the long arc of suffering); there will be all the calamities of history.
What happens “before” these things? The constraining of the very ones asking for the sign, the suffering of Christians in the Spirit, the martyrdom of Christian existence in a loveless world. “It will lead to your giving testimony (martyrion)” (Luke 21:13).
There will be betrayal by family members; there will be assimilation to Christ’s being hated “by all.” Finally: “By your perseverance/patience (hupomonē) you will gain your souls.”
What is the sign of the coming Kingdom? Witness to the Word, the martyrdom of faithful existence in history. The sign is nothing other than suffering in Jesus, the gutting-out of time in the darkness of faith. This is how the Kingdom of the Father comes to earth. Suffering in and with Christ is the effective sign of the Kingdom: it is the sacrament of the New Jerusalem.
The invisible Father, the Source of all we see, must be trusted to bring the visible into continuity with the invisible. There’s a ladder between heaven and earth, and we end up struggling with God because it takes time, all of time, to get from here to there.
Again, that magnificent passage from Balthasar’s A Theology of History comes to mind:
“What tells us more than anything else that Jesus’ mode of time is indeed real is the fact that He does not anticipate the will of the Father. He does not do that precise thing which we try to do when we sin, which is to break out of time, within which are contained God’s dispositions for us, in order to arrogate to ourselves a sort of eternity, to ‘take the long view’ and ‘make sure of things.’ Both Irenaeus and Clement consider that original sin consisted in anticipation of this kind: and indeed, at the close of Revelation the reward which the Son bestows upon the victor is that fruit of Paradise which the sinner had to his own hurt stolen in anticipation (Rev 2:7). God intended man to have ALL good, but in His, God’s time; and therefore all disobedience, all sin, consists essentially in breaking out of time.”
[By the way, Doctor Strange does a very good job portraying the demonically inflected ressentiment against time: there is no shortcut through the rigors of time. There’s only one way to surmount all the pain: to go through it; indeed, to embrace it in sacrificial love. To die and die and die, over and over and over again.]
When will our suffering end? Only the good Father knows. Ours is only to patiently exist within the Son, as He is ground down by the winds of history.
And as we disappear together, our eyes will open onto invisible light, martyrs of the martyred Light proceeding from the Father of lights, from Whom comes every good and perfect gift.