Articles, Essays & Sermons

COVID-19 and apocalyptic imagination

A meditation

by Ken Sehested

The root meaning of “apocalyptic” is not “catastrophe” but “unveiling.” That which was hidden is now revealed. It is not the brutal, final flourish of history, but the opportunity for renewal, the chance to begin anew.

I can think of no better way to observe Lent than to watch this short (3:42) video, “An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans,” from Films for Action.  And then ponder the brief reflection, below.

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Thoughts on “apocalypse”
In preparation for an ad hoc gathering of believers preparing a statement on the war in Iraq, September 2005:

Simply typing the word—apocalypse—makes my fingers feel awkward, clumsy, hesitant—requiring uncommon coordination. “Apocalypse” is a tricky word. It evokes memory of the surreal 1979 film (Apocalypse Now) by Francis Ford Coppola and the mind-bending roles of Brando, Sheen and Duvall.

“Apocalypse” is one of those “don’t-go-there” words for me and mine. Its associations are best left to the Left-Behind crowd, quarantined behind their cruel glee at the prospect of getting to cut in line among the lucky few refugees escaping the final sadistic revenge of a ghoulish god.

But we cede too much to that crowd—among other crowds, of various sorts, who plunder our narrative treasures, stealing our vocabulary for mischievous purpose.

In the wake of every new disaster, some within the community of faith—some who speak the name of Jesus with our same accent—describe this present and frightful moment of history in apocalyptic terms. And they are right.

It is. But not, I think, in the way they propose.

Apocalyptic moments are often catastrophic ones. But, for biblical people, the accent is not on catastrophe but on the unveiling and uncovering of truth, the dispelling of falsehood, of evaporating fantasy, and the forsaking of presumed innocence.

Most importantly, it offers the option of repentance and the occasion for conversion, the movement from despair to hope. Apocalyptic moments open the heart for “Godly grief” that “brings no regret” (2 Cor. 7:10), guiding the hands to repair and redeem.

For us, now, is offered the moment to grasp the truth about what the fires have unleashed abroad and what the floods have uncovered at home. The two realities are intimately connected.

Apocalypse is not so much the certainty of an ending but the promise, provision and possibility of a new beginning. Would that this be that. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org