Since 2007 I have blogged at America Magazine’s “The Good Word” and have enjoyed the practice and habit of blogging immensely. “The Good Word” gave me the freedom to write on the topics and passages on which I saw fit and, significantly, gave me a built in audience, since America Magazine in print has been with us for over a century now. It is this readership which I will miss the most, since I enjoyed the comments, ideas, and good will which was generated at the site by readers. It made “The Good Word” a civilized site, which it remains, and which is sometimes too rare on the web, but which mirrors the purposes of the Bible, to transcend ephemeral differences amongst people and get to the true heart of matters.
At the heart of my interests, naturally, is the Bible. “The Good Word” gave me the occasion to interpret the Bible in connection with the daily and weekly Lectionary readings and in the context of popular culture, music and movies especially, and current Church news and events. I am immensely grateful to Tim Reidy, the online editor, for offering me this opportunity to write for the magazine and I hope that, in some form or another, I will continue to contribute to America Magazine in the future, as Tim and I have discussed. It has come time, though, for me to move on with other projects and these are motivated by my desire to write more directly about my scholarly interests and my personal interests, which intersect in a number of ways. I will be blogging now at www.biblejunkies.com and I would invite you all to come and read my posts there, after you have finished with “The Good Word,” naturally. I think it would be wrong, though, to end my last post with a post simply saying goodbye, without any biblical content or reflection.
Throughout this semester my students, both graduate and undergraduate, and I have been reading Jewish and Christian apocalyptic texts, some of which are canonical and some of which are not. The apocalyptic genre concerns what have been traditionally known as “the last things” and on surface are simply oriented to the future. It is the case, though, that apocalyptic texts have an integral relationship to the time in which they are written and often concern the religious, political and social situations of those Jews and Christians who were suffering persecution, physical or religious, under the thumb of foreign rulers such as Antiochus Epiphanes or Domitian. Apocalyptic texts, then, often consider the past, history to us, which was, of course, the present day experience of the authors of apocalyptic texts and their first hearers and readers, as they hoped and yearned for future salvation.
Christian apocalyptic hopes were transformed in a subtle way, though, by the first coming of Jesus in the incarnation. It is not that these first followers of Jesus did not share the same sort of future yearnings as in other Jewish apocalypses – they certainly did – or that the Christian apocalyptic hopes were not interpreted in light of the present day situation of the authors and first readers, for instance, of the Apocalypse of John. It is just in the Jewish apocalypses, such as Daniel, 1 Enoch, and 4 Ezra, for example, the hope for the Messiah was not grounded in a historical reality, but in the promises of the age to come and the sufferings of the present age. These hopes and promises are not insignificant, but Christian apocalyptic hopes were grounded additionally in the concrete reality of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.
This did not mean that ancient Christians were awaiting the “Second Coming” of the Messiah, the Christ, since he had already come once in the incarnation, but more that because of his death, resurrection and ascension he was with them even in the midst of their earthly lives, not only as a hope, but as Lord. This is not past tense, however, as if something experienced only by ancient Christians and apocalyptic seers, but a present reality for Jesus’ followers today. In prayer, in worship, in liturgy, in text, in community, Jesus comes to each of us even now. We share, that is, in the humble triumph of good over evil now, we participate in the heavenly liturgy now, we live in community with the saints now, we dine at the Messianic banquet now. There is good reason, then, to see Jesus’ return, or Parousia, not even as the “Second Coming,” but as the “Third Coming,” following his Incarnation, just celebrated, and his constant communion with and life together with the saints now. This future is present now and because of it we wait with such hope for its fulfillment.
Here is an example. Years ago when I was a teenager, my Great Aunt, who was then in her 90’s, hugged me and said something to me during a rare visit to see her. Rare because old relatives lose their luster to hipster teenagers. Yet, when she spoke to me tears started to stream down my cheeks, which was remarkable because I did not understand what she had said to me. She was one of my “Tantens,” who had come to Canada from the Mennonite communities in Russia late in life, and who had never learned to speak English. My German was in remission in those years, so I asked my Mother what her Aunt had said. My Mom said, “She said, ‘if I don’t see you here on earth again, I’ll see you in heaven.’” I did not see her here on earth again, but I look forward to seeing her again in heaven. I look forward to seeing all of you again, too, here at America, at my new blog, or in heaven. Now, please do not misunderstand: only one of the sites I have just mentioned is most excellent, perfect even, and I do not mean to compare the other sites to it. It's only that even though these earthly sites are less than perfect, all we can do is keep trying and they are the only places you can find me now. See you around.
John W. Martens
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