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Further reflections from Alexandria
As I have looked again and again at yesterday’s haunting image, and I have watched a welcome string of visitors to this blog coming in from Egypt – I have been reminded of a visit I made many years ago to a Coptic Christian family living in London. Although it was only intended as a casual visit, I was met with all the warmth and hospitality you would expect in any Egyptian home. When at last I began to tear myself away I explained that I had to leave as I was due at the church to conduct an evening on the subject of the persecuted church. My charming hosts looked at me nonplussed. ‘Didn’t everybody know’, they enquired, ‘the church will always be persecuted’? There was not an ounce of self pity or resignation in their voices. They said it with exactly the same tone as you or I might say “doesn’t everybody know what goes up must come down”. It was a law of their spiritual universe, just as gravity is a law of our physical universe.
I write all this as I am embarking on a preaching series through the book of Revelation. As ever, I look at its puzzling pages with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. It has been said to me that the best hermeneutic of the New Testament, especially of books like Revelation, is to be found in the persecuted church. If that is the case – then my collection of Bible commentaries is deeply impoverished. I have no voices from places like Egypt and others to guide me. Why is that? Is it just a kind of cultural imperialism which means that commentaries are translated from English but not into it? Or are we so busy pitying the persecuted church that we do not listen to what she has to say?
All insights welcome…
May be too late…
As a self-confessed fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, especially in its original radio version, one particular piece of dialogue sticks in my head. Just near the beginning of the story, the lead character, Arthur Dent, confesses to the barman at his local pub that the world is about to end that afternoon. Nonchalantly polishing a glass behind the counter, the barman retorts that it would be a “lucky escape for Arsenal if it does”.
As preachers we would want to challenge any view of the world’s end which has an insouciance bordering on the arrogant. The bible leaves us in no doubt that judgement will come, it will affect everybody, and we should be ready for it. Every sermon is preached against the sound of a ticking clock, since we know that our time for these things is limited. However, the Bible leaves us in the dark about quite how limited it might be. We are told that it might be at any minute – but not which minute. Even Jesus said that he was not privy to the precise details of when judgement might fall.
According to Family Radio in America – the date for all this has already been set. On May 21st this year, judgement will fall. Presumably this means that no plans for holidays or church building projects should be made after that date? Those who like to plan their preaching on into the Autumn may well be wasting their time. I am left wondering whether my planned series for Revelation this Spring is especially appropriate or…too little too late. I hope not.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide was said to be especially useful to the intergalactic traveller on account of its front cover – which bore the “large and friendly words – don’t panic”. Good advice, I reckon. Don’t be unconcerned about the end of all things, but don’t be panicked by it either.
Should I plan a sermon for May 22nd, do you think?