When we hear the word apocalypse, we usually think about the end of the world. We imagine massive wars, incredible natural disasters, and an unbelievable amount of destruction and anguish. The apocalypse is good for comic books and action movies but it’s not, typically, something we want to live through. One of the ways we anticipate the apocalypse is by asking the question: “what will the end look like?” But that wasn’t a question the bible really spent a lot of time talking about. Instead, the communities who wrote, read, and shared these biblical words wanted to know: “what is the meaning of our suffering?” Those who contributed apocalypse stories to the Bible (Daniel, Revelation, and even bits of the gospel according to Mark) were trying to find meaning in “their own struggle and suffering” (Revelation: Interpretation Commentary, page 43).
Today’s reading from the book of Daniel 12:1-3 is an attempt to find meaning. Daniel is the youngest book in the Old Testament section of our scriptures. The book was set in the years after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians (in the aftermath of the year 586 BCE) but it was probably written 400 years after that. Daniel was composed at a time when the Jewish community faced severe persecutions from the ruling authorities. Judaism was outlawed and Torah scrolls were burned. Religious rites were abolished and children were discouraged from gaining the marks that defined them as part of the Jewish community. Rabbis and students were persecuted and killed. The Jewish community, especially the one centered in Jerusalem, tried to make sense of their suffering. The book of Daniel was a response to that suffering and today’s text is the beginning of the final scene of Daniel’s four visions of the apocalypse. But it’s not a vision of the end. It’s a vision of a new beginning.
Daniel’s vision of the afterlife is less about details of “what” happens and, instead, is centered in hope. Daniel doesn’t try to mask the seriousness of suffering, pain, sadness, and fear. He doesn’t say that what we experience in our life is, somehow, “less real” than it is. Instead, Daniel acknowledges that life can be hard and that following God is not always easy. Our faith requires us to sometimes say “no” to the ways the world try to turn us from God, each other, or call to love the world. There can be a deadly consequence for that “no.” But the world doesn’t define our value or worth; only God can. And through the Spirit and our relationship with Jesus, we are defined by that connection to the divine. This connection is what gives us a new sense of purpose, love, and hope. This connection is what, today and always, gives us life.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week (or about our liturgy). This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, 11/18/2018.