Monday, November 21, 2022

Apocalyptic Anglicanism in Advent?

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.


Anonymous said...

Greetings and gratitude from a certain northern continent, Peter. This is a fine OP.

The best of several things that I like about it is your pastoral application of apocalyptic to stress, resistance, and disruption.

But why oh why in Advent? It's out of tune with the office parties, caroling, and tree trimming soon to begin. (I once preached in this season on the Woman and the Dragon. The homeless in their shelter liked this better than parishioners on padded pews.)

One could better ask, "Why Advent?" The Byzantine ordo is already this week sounding the first faint notes of Christmas, notes that will grow louder and richer as the feast draws nearer. These and the mind-clearing fast of these weeks gradually open the worshipping mind to the paradoxical mystery of Incarnation.

The Latin Church also used to fast for as many as eight weeks before Christmas, but began to substitute an Advent of "shock and awe." These also prepare the mind for the surprise of God in a manger, but do so by reintroducing him as the Lord of history and the cosmos.

Just because of this aeon's duress, oppression, and ideology, it is our starved imaginations that need that introduction. We might best appreciate this literature of dreams and visions (and even of a man taken to the third heaven, though whether in the body or out of it we do not know) as difficult but sacred Art.


Liz Cowburn said...

I'd be grateful for advice on how I may start following the 'lectionary' readings online (as a beginner). Seems it's the right time now to start doing a year of them? Rather than visit a random online source, I'd rather ask your recommendation, especially given our NZ context. Thanks.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Liz
The NZ [Anglican] Lectionary can be downloaded for free:

Each day of the year there are two sets of daily readings:
- for a eucharistic service, generally shorter than the next set, and always with a gospel reading;
- for morning or evening prayer, generally an OT and a NT reading.

Each set of reading cycles through the Bible over a designated period - explained in the introduction, I think.

Liz Cowburn said...

Thanks very much Bishop Peter.

Mark Murphy said...

The Lectionary can be a bit confusing, Liz. When I read it, I just do the "DEL" readings.

I have found it to be a great way of reading scripture as it always includes a breadth of literatures (something from the Hebrew Bible, a psalm, a gospel reading, something from other NT books sometimes). That's one of the treasures of Anglicanism that I've only realized recently; in it's liturgy, it's "common prayer", and lectionary it's always reading and meditating on scripture and scripture in a broad, comprehensive way (rather than just picking out favourite bits for constant repetition or focussing on say Deuteronomy for 8 months).

Peter, is the 'Anglican Lectionary'tue same as the Catholic one? There is some similarities there, aren't there?

Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter; I find that now, at 93, looking into the inevitability of a finite space of time here on earth (pancreatic cancer diagnosis) I am leaning more towards optimism than pessimism for the future, not only of myself but of the planet and all who find it to be their home. In this light, I am tempted to overlook the more sombre aspects of ADVENT (though I will be wearing the tradition purple vestments at the Mass) towards the more promising aspects of the deliverance that has been promised to the followers of our Incarnate God in Jesus Christ. As sinners, yet redeemed, we need to learn to 'rejoice in our salvation', rather than bemoan our human wretchedness. This is why I look forward, daily, to the encouragement of Pope Francis, who, today, offers us this message:


“Let us take to heart the clear and unmistakable summons in the Gospel not to be led astray. Let us not listen to prophets of doom. Let us not be enchanted by the sirens of populism, which exploit people’s real needs by facile and hasty solutions. Let us not follow the false “messiahs” who, in the name of profit, proclaim recipes useful only for increasing the wealth of a few, while condemning the poor to the margins of society. Instead, let us bear witness. Let us light candles of hope in the midst of darkness. Amid dramatic situations, let us seize opportunities to bear witness to the Gospel of joy and to build a fraternal world, or at least a bit more fraternal. Let us commit ourselves courageously to justice, the rule of law and peace, and stand always at the side of the weakest. Let us not step back to protect ourselves from history, but strive to give this moment of history, which we are experiencing, a different face. (Pope Francis).

” Your salvation is near "


Liz Cowburn said...

It's so nice to find you've shared some thoughts from your own use of the Lectionary Mark! Thank you for your kindness.

Peter Carrell said...

Hello Mark
Broadly speaking, the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) Sunday eucharist readings and the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary (DEL) readings follow the Roman Catholic lectionaries - thus the great advantage of the lectionary system is common reading of Scripture across the globe by Romans, Anglicans, Lutherans etc.
There can be moments of variation; and the CofE's versions sometimes have a wee life of their own - buyer's of CofE annual diaries-with-readings-listed, beware!

Father Ron said...

I find the RCL Readings to be both unifying (common to many Christians) and instructive, giving us - at the Eucharist (especially on Sundays) - a wealth of O.T.; Psalmody; Epistles and Gospels for us to ruminate on our relationships with God and one another. This is surely preferable to the prospect of an hour's self-chosen preachment on preferred items of Scripture that often are warnings rather than encouragement. (We do need both, of course, but the constant repetition of shibboleths can turn people away from the Good News of our salvation).

The recent Feast of Christ the King (before Advent) gives us a wonderful perspective.

Happy Advent, everyone!

Liz Cowburn said...

Advent isn't something that was a 'thing' in my background but I'm happy to embrace it with enthusiasm this time! Thanks for your reminder Father Ron, "As sinners, yet redeemed, we need to learn to 'rejoice in our salvation', rather than bemoan our human wretchedness." Congratulations! 93yrs is really impressive! Happy Advent Father Ron, and to everyone :)

Mark Murphy said...

Happy Advent, Father week.

For now the Lectionary allows me to wish you a very cordial Day of Prayer for the Ministry of the Church and Ordinands, *and* feast day of St Cecilia, *and* rememberance day for C.S. Lewis, Apologist.

But maybe Advent has already begun? Or perhaps is is always happening, as theological Quakers might believe.

I really appreciate this warm up to Revelation, Peter. I like Revelation if for no other reason than it is *crazy colourful*.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering where else in the Church year are there readings about the End, apart from Advent? The gospel for Sunday, Advent 1, is clearly Jesus speaking about his coming, in the context of the whole of Matthew 24 and 25. This, after all, is meant to be the culmination of God’s great plan of salvation shown throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation - the “coming of God’s reign of justice and love” as the NZPB says. However it is a difficult truth to hold on to in this secular age where even many Christians are either unsure or unbelieving about it. But it at least needs to be mentioned in the Church year even if Daniel and Revelation are not the easiest of books to use to convey it!

Ms Liz said...

I haven't started on the Lectionary readings yet but intend to! ~just need to get organised.. but I'm looking forward to becoming reacquainted with Daniel and Revelation.

From childhood I wondered about the dreams and visions of the Bible.. they seemed so extraordinary! Nowadays I wonder if modern western christians believe visions like these happen/happened, just curious. I'm a believer. Prior to 2017 I wouldn't have been that confident but since then I've had three individual visions with a big time-gap between each one. Each was very specific and addressed a major personal 'stumbling block' issue.. this was when I was re-engaging with spiritual things and was struggling. Each time was an incredibly intense learning experience and it transformed my thinking. [Spoiler: no angels or visit to heaven] I've no big reason for sharing this, it's just that I'm really looking forward to Daniel and Revelation! ~Liz

Anonymous said...

An ethical and intellectual emergency is happening in America and this is no exaggeration . Around 40% of the country believe that Jesus will return in the next 50 yrs. How can this belief proffer any sort of solid future both socially and environmentally? As noted, popular biblical interpretations on prophecy suggest Jesus will return when things get really bad here on earth. One can only imagine the rapturous scenes if Washington DC was enveloped in a fire ball (the best thing that could ever happen is happening according to these people), or worse, a significant arm of the military truly thought the world was going to end!

Ms Liz said...

"...Jesus will return in the next 50 yrs..."
~fyi (I was curious so I had to look online)

1. Rolling Stone Magazine, 06 March 2022

These two were provided in the article:

(i) Pew Research 14 July 2010

(ii) Rapture Ready Index [yes - really! ~Liz]
"The higher the number, the faster we’re moving towards the occurrence of pre-tribulation rapture."
(Some of the active category comments are 'interesting'.. hmm)

Anonymous said...

Says who?


Unknown said...

I want to make a pavlova tomorrow. Who down under has a good recipe?


Ms Liz said...

"I want to make a pavlova tomorrow."

Many decades ago a lady where I worked made delicious pavlovas and photocopied her handwritten recipe for the rest of us. I still have it even though I've never made it. I've typed it out at the bottom of an old blog-post for you. Note some people like soft pav, and some like crispy pav that's soft inside. I'm one of the latter - and I'm pretty sure this recipe makes a crispy pav. So here's the link to the old post at my blog. ~Liz

Plug for a Pug ~and scroll down for pavlova!

Mark Murphy said...

A voice from heaven like the sound of many waters

A sea of glass mixed with fire

Revelation is full of deep image - striking poetry.

For myself, it only makes sense if it's read allegorically, symbolically...and by that I mean more of a commentary on the inner kingdom of the soul, and especially the soul of "John".....rather than the doomed history of it as a geopolitical commentary.

Ms Liz said...

Wonderful words Mark, glad you quoted them. I probably only partially 'get' your meaning so my thought should be seen as unrelated.. I just imagine "John" who relates that he was "in the spirit" seeing things in a vision that're beyond imagining and description, having to agonise as a human, over how to put what he saw into words for other humans to understand, and it's like wow, what a job! In my much humbler visions I could clearly see actual things and was given clear understanding of the meaning.

Anonymous said...

I can understand the idea of the battleground of the soul, even John’s, being presented allegorically in the visions. We know those battles only too well. But Revelation picks up the theme of the kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate and that is promised over the thousands of years of God’s salvation history - a kingdom of justice and love under the rule of the Prince of Peace, ‘whose kingdom will have no end’. What is promised is far vaster than the individual or even nations, and takes in the whole universe in my view, in some cataclysmic event. Paul says, “If there is no resurrection our faith is vain” and our preaching makes God a liar. If the Bible is true there is a definite hope of a ‘new heaven and a new earth’! (I said I am nearer orthodoxy than progressive thought! 😀) But when and how I have no idea.

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Liz

Thinking about what you say regarding personal visions...and relating that to my own 'visionary' experience....

And thinking about the great history of powerful dreams and visions throughout Christian history...

I wonder if Revelation presents an example of Christian spiritual experience and discipleship, but one amongst many as it were, rather than a specially authoritative example.

Mark Murphy said...

Thank you Moya. Yes I agree that it's not really the cosmic kingdom of God as inaugurated by Jesus if we're just left with our own little individual soul kingdoms.

I believe our souls connect up, in some simple and mysterious way, with the divine presence, our ground of being....our little kingdoms access a much bigger kingdom. There is "that of God" in everyone.

Yet it also seems our task to both embody or localize the bigger kingdom within our own colours, talents, and imagery etc., as well as work through our own distinctive darkness that gets in the way. Saint John's will have similarities and differences with mine.

I know it's not very orthodox to say this, but I don't believe the revelation of Saint John is anymore holy than the revelation of Moya. But it's also not any less illuminating for being that, too.

Ms Liz said...

Great conversation going on here.. loving it! ~just returned from an afternoon out where we've enjoyed seeing beautiful roses, paeonies, irises and more :)

Anonymous said...

I have ordered ‘Five Pathways to Wholeness’ that Bowman mentioned, from the library. I read in the introduction on Amazon that the author talks about each person having a ‘personal holy scripture’ which touched me. Maybe that’s what you mean Mark?

Mark Murphy said...

Sounds yummy and intriguing, Moya.

Please read and email us as to what the author means by that enticing phrase.

I guess I just mean: we're in spirit all the time, and some of Christians seem to be, sometimes, in the richly imagistic way Saint John was. Like you Liz, I marvel at the author's poetry - his capacity to translate those deep visual, emotional and spiritual details into evocative words....

his face was like the sun shining with full force

But almost every client who I work with experiences a similar richness of spiritual experience, a mixture of light and darkness, mostly in their dream life but sometimes in waking visions and prayerful experiences too. They/we just often don't have the space to talk about it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry the library is going to buy it I hope but it won’t arrive for months. It’s a way of getting good books into the library as well as reading it myself!

Liz Cowburn said...

"They/we just often don't have the space to talk about it."

Mark, that's exactly it! There's so much that doesn't get spoken about.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks BW I will look for that. Interestingly dreams and visions of ‘the man in white’ are among the most common ways for Muslims to begin a search for something or someone beyond the faith they have been taught. Their cultures are much more tuned than ours to spiritual experiences through dreams and visions.

Ms Liz said...

Great to have the review link Bowman. The book's available for Kindle via the Aussie Amazon site for NZ$16.19. In it I've already found a mention of Cornelius Van Til's ideas (handy for me as his name's cropped up several times in my reading about dominionism so this helps fill in a blank, hooray!)

Ms Liz said...

Pastoral Imagination: Bringing the Practice of Ministry to Life
by Eileen R. Campbell-Reed [May 2021] USA.

Looks an amazing read and I've bought the kindle version this morning. Thought I'd share here in case anyone's interested, or already read it.

Found it via a review in 'The Christian Century', then accessed the Aussie Amazon site for their review +free extract. One thing that struck me is the author's honesty/commitment in discussing diversity ~race/gender.

Part-quote from the Amazon review: ".. Eileen R. Campbell-Reed informs and inspires the practice of ministry through slices of "on the ground" learning experienced by seminarians, pastors, activists, and chaplains and gathered from qualitative studies of ministry." (she also writes from her personal experience)

Christian Century:

Oz Amazon:

Mark Murphy said...

Could the Second Coming be a bunch of sparrows?

I attended a contemplative service at St Saviour’s and Holy Trinity in Lyttelton last night.

The church was surrounded by the voice of sparrows, one bellbird, and even some gulls. The bellbird’s voice was like a stone thrown into the middle of a deep, still pool. The gulls made me laugh.

Had they heard the Psalmist imploring us to raise our voices in song?

The noise of the Port groaned in the background from time to time. “The sea is his…”

The birds went on, more full of presence and reconciliation-of-heaven-and-earth than almost anything else we could muster.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert…”

Ms Liz said...

"The birds went on, more full of presence and reconciliation-of-heaven-and-earth than almost anything else we could muster."

~Beautiful~ Love this! We lived in Lyttelton a short while, slightly up the hill from the Volcano Cafe but other side of street. Enjoyed having the port below.

What you said reminded me of Jesus baptism and the "Spirit descending from heaven like a dove".

Anonymous said...

I read your review of ‘Five Pathways to Wholeness’, Bowman, and it has whetted my appetite for the book, which is now on order in the library system. I know two of the pathways quite well but not up to maturity!!! The book sounds well worth buying actually but I will wait (not up to Kindle!).