I have noticed recently, in the run up to Advent, the odd grizzle or two on Anglican social media about the lectionary providing readings for Morning Prayer from Daniel and from Revelation: "It's a bit too much," is the gist of the grizzles.
Naturally that gets me thinking, perhaps you too, about the role of apocalyptic literature such as Daniel and Revelation in Christian life generally, in Anglican life particularly, and in the last days [that was a subtle joke] before Advent and during Advent itself when we are invited by various readings to think about "the End" and "the Second Coming."
Some Anglicans might think talk of the Second Coming is not very Anglican, more the concern of certain fundamentalists from a certain northern continent. In which case, let me remind you of the collect for the Third Sunday in Advent from the Book of Common Prayer:
O Lord Jesu Christ, who at they first coming didst send they messenger to prepare the way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of they mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready they way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignst with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
OK, so may be Anglicans do not talk about the Second Coming with capital letters, but we do talk about the second coming of Christ!
Anyhoo, back to Daniel and Revelation.
I think it a very good idea that the lectionary exposes us to the full breadth of Scripture, from Genesis to, er, Revelation, and thus we are confronted with what the message or messages of Daniel, Revelation and all similar apocalyptic (i.e. revealing, disclosing, unveiling) literature in Scripture is or are.
Apocalyptic literature is literature of stress and duress.
Israel (of Maccabean times, c. 167 BC) stressed by the invasion of Greece, draws on the memories of the duress experienced when Jerusalem was sacked (597/587 BC) and Judah went into exile in Babylon, and produces Daniel, a set of tales of a faithful Jew which include visions which give insight into the hidden powers of darkness which work through the imperial forces focused against God's holy people and reveal the stronger powers of God's angelic rulers in order to strengthen Judah's resolve to be faithful.
Revelation, composed at the end of the first century AD, draws heavily on Daniel (and to a lesser degree on Ezekiel, Zechariah and Isaiah), to update for the followers of Jesus under stress (primarily a threat of imminent persecution) the kind of insights Daniel provided: hidden behind the activities of Rome and its local supporters and henchman throughout the empire are satanic forces; powerful though they are, the angels of God and the spirits of God, and, most importantly, Jesus Christ the risen, exalted Word and Lamb of God have got them covered and are about to swipe them off the face of the earth.
So, point (1): We may grizzle at the apocalyptic overload of reading both Daniel and Revelation on the same morning for a week or two because we are unstressed, but in our day, there are plenty of Christians under stress, particularly the threat of persecution and the challenge of being faithful when threatened with violence and loss of livelihood. Let's read Daniel and Revelation in solidarity with them.
Apocalyptic literature is literature of resistance
Both Daniel and Revelation call out imperial powers - human attempts to orchestrate people to submit against their better judgement to the arbitrary ambitions of despots and tyrants - and show them up for what they are: expressions of evil, idolatries rebelling against the rule of the Creator and Redeemer God of Israel. In doing so, like all apocalyptic literature, they ask of their readers that they stand firm in their faith in God and thus resist the encroachment of the evil powers.
So, point 2: We read Daniel and Revelation as a double dose of fortifying resolution to be godly people who resist imperialism wherever we find it, and in whatever guise we find it in today's world.
Apocalyptic literature is literature of disruption
Both Daniel and Revelation (and material in the gospels and in the epistles) propose that history is not endless: the story of human life is coming to an end. History as a tale of people marrying and producing offspring who marry and produce offspring etcetera is denied by apocalyptic literature which tells us God will disrupt life as we know it and dramatically turn the tables on the forces of evil and rescue God's people from complete destruction and annihilation.
So, point 3: We read Daniel and Revelation as alternative narratives to the stories we generally tell ourselves about studying, embarking on a career, finding a life partner to marry and raise a family, wisely setting aside money for later life, for a long, active and happy retirement, all premised on dying in our sleep at a very grand old age. Tomorrow the world may end. Am I ready? Tomorrow the axe of oppression may fall on me and my congregation. Are we prepared? Tomorrow I may be thrown to the lions? Will that be the end or does God have another future in store? Disruption is a part of history. We should not be surprised when it comes.
Of course, in a world in which some of us are growing old steadily (I had my 60-something birthday the other day), there are plenty of possibilities for disruption, even when we are not living in Ukraine or Iran. North Korea is firing off practice missiles. The world economy could tank. Twitter may fall over. Climate change may disrupt life in ways not even imaginable after the disruptive storms, floods, and fires of the past few years.
To be honest, of all ways of being Christian, being Anglican is not the best way to be ready for disruption.
We do steady state complacency rather well! We have often been on the side of empires rather than resisting their growth and standing against their rapaciousness.
In the run up to and the run through Advent, how will we Anglicans read Daniel and Revelation and those gospel passages speaking of the End?
Not with grizzles, I hope.