Apocalypse Now? A Reflection Upon the Events of Election Day, 2016

by the Rev. Rhonda J. Rubinson, priest-in-charge

Church of the Intercession, NYC

November 9, 2016

Text:  Luke 21:5-19

This past Tuesday, we held a general election in this country to elect the next President of the United States, as well as various members of Congress. I think it’s safe to say that the results shocked everyone on both sides – no one was expecting what transpired that night. By Wednesday morning as the sun came up, we gazed out upon a changed nation, and a different world. Many of our personal universes were altered well, shaken in ways that we could not imagine the day before. It felt – at least to me – something like an Apocalypse.

Everyone is different, and everyone processes such things in their own way. I first had a physical reaction: vertigo, visceral fear, even nausea, not unlike the reaction that I had when my father collapsed and died two hours later of an aneurysm in 1997. This physical reaction was accompanied by an emotional one: deep denial that what had happened hadn’t really just happened. Those manifestations of shock lasted for a few hours, during which time I found myself spiritually paralyzed, unable to pray. 

But then I reached for my Bible and my rosary. At about 3:30 in the morning I began to pray, in earnest. Then I went to the gospel for today, aware that the light-hearted stewardship sermon I had prepared for this Sunday had been rendered utterly irrelevant by the election. In our text this week from Luke, after Jesus describes the destruction of the temple, his disciples ask him, 

"Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"

Listen to Jesus’ reply:

"Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and, `The time is near!' Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”

Jesus may as well have said, “Republican will fight with Democrat, red with blue, urban population with rural population, the 1% versus the 99%, the college educated with the non-college educated, women against men, white versus minority” and on and on, describing conflicts along the fault lines that have opened up within our one nation in the past year and a half. Yes, Jesus says, there will be wars. But he also says, do not be surprised by them, and – most crucially – “Do not be terrified.”

Do NOT be terrified. While Jesus is describing the Apocalypse, the End of Days, he is also reminding us of something that we in our personal myopia about our own world view tend to forget: we are part of something much larger than ourselves, a plan of salvation that is meant for all creation, and that getting there is not a series of ascending steps in a staircase. There is opposition, there are slides sideways or backwards backwards, and these slides look to us to be dreadful aberrations from God’s plan. But Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that these aberrations are known to God and are, in fact, expected. They are not good, mind you – I am not saying that they are – but they are not a surprise to God.

Nor should they surprise us. After all, Jesus gave everything he had to bring God’s kingdom to earth and to create a just, healthy, loving society, and he was murdered for his trouble. But was that outside of God’s plan? No. It is sobering to realize that without Jesus’ death, we would not have resurrection. God’s plan was bigger than even death, even that of our own. 

Jesus alludes to his own death and the persecutions we can expect from our society in today’s gospel:

". . . they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."

In our present situation, it is helpful to look at another time of conflict in our nation’s history, our dreadful Civil War, to see how people of faith coped with uncertainty, dread, and actual horror.  President Abraham Lincoln wrestled often with questions of faith and morality, struggling with what courses of action to take in his very dark times – times, we should remember, that were very much darker than our own at present. Often, Lincoln wrote meditations for himself that were not meant for the public consumption. One such meditation was written in September 1862 after the Second Battle of Bull Run, which was an excruciating loss for the Union with heavy casualties on both sides. This document was untitled and undated and found on Lincoln’s desk by his secretary John Hay. It has come to be called to “Meditation on the Divine Will” and it is hauntingly applicable to our national situation today. Here’s an excerpt:

The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be and one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party – and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost willing to say that this is probably true – that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By His mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun, He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds. [1]

My sisters and brothers, God gave us free will and does not interfere with our exercise of that gift, no matter how we use it. We have in our nature a powerful drive to use that gift for ill – that is a definition of sin – even to the point of enslaving our fellow humans, even to the point of murdering the Son of God. Yet nothing – nothing – can fall outside of God’s love for us, or the ultimate fulfillment of his plan, certainly not a presidential election.

At our diocesan convention last weekend, Bishop Dietsche used the analogy of a walking a labyrinth to describe our individual walks with God. Labyrinths have many twists and turns, he said, and they often lead away from the goal of reaching the center. Yet whatever path you take, you cannot get lost, for all paths, no matter how circuitous, take us to the same place. As individual souls, we can never get lost. The same can be said of our national life. We can roam far from the center, from our goals of justice, compassion, and wholeness. Yet no matter how dislocated we might feel, we are not lost to God.

So what do we do? How do we cope with our new, altered landscape? It feels like everything has changed, yet in truth nothing has, in the sense that we need not do anything new to cope. The prophet Micah said,

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

That instruction hasn’t changed. Nor have the words of first Moses, then Jesus, who gave us the two Great Commandments: 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

My sisters and brothers, we are Christians. We walk the Way of the Lord. We are called upon to be light in the darkness, the force of love in a world riven by of hate. We are called upon to work for justice, and show compassion and mercy to all of God’s children.

This past Wednesday, we awoke to a changed world. We may or may not be in the end times, in the days preceding the Apocalypse, but whether we are or aren’t we need not be afraid, and we need not lose our faith. We can never, ever fall outside the gaze, love, or purpose of God, and it is up to us to proclaim that message to everyone: Republican and Democrat, urban folk and rural folk, members of the 1% and those who belong to the 99%, the college educated and the non-college educated, women and men, white people and those are in the minority, because after all what does God require of us but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?

May God bless each and every one of us and our country, the United States of America.

Amen.

[1] As quoted by Alton Trueblood in Abraham Lincoln:  Lessons in Spiritual Leadership (New York:  Harper Collins Inc.), 1073, page 7.