Well, what kind of reaping do you hear in these readings? What sort of end is arriving? The end of Dean Travis’ tenure? The end of 60 years of faithful witness here in Austin? The end of the term – grades and evaluations?
What does harvest mean, in this season? Many of us have just rolled in from the excessive harvest called Thanksgiving dinner. This culture sees harvest as abundance – what do we do with these shocking images of endings?
The angels in Revelation are supposed to reap – both the field and the vineyard are ripe and ready. Even though many ears hear this as a sign of doom and the end of things, there’s a good deal more hope than may be immediately apparent. The grimmest part seems to be “the great wine press of the wrath of God,” particularly when you hear about the river of blood several feet deep and hundreds of miles long!
But think for a moment about what happens when grapes are harvested. If you want to make decent wine, you do indeed need to press those grapes. Putting grapes in a press opens up the grapes so their flesh is available for fermenting. It leaves behind the skins and seeds, which aren’t terribly nutritious. Harvesting and pressing are necessary preliminaries to a good vintage, but only time will tell whether a fine wine or a mediocre one – or even vinegar – will result.
The river of blood coming out of God’s angry wine press might be understood in the same way, as a breaking open of the life that’s been known. Blood in that culture is about life, even when it’s polluting. Poured on the ground it might be an offering, like Jesus’ own. We don’t fully know about this river of blood. But we do know that judgment is not yet, and we know that God is capable of surprising outcomes.
There are similar dynamics going on in the gospel reading. Even this massive temple is temporary, Jesus says, yet the time of its destruction is not fixed. Even the major destruction of war is not a sure signal of the end. Stay tuned, he says, it won’t happen immediately.
We heard this gospel story a couple of weeks ago from Mark. His take on all the wars and earthquakes and famines is that they are simply the beginning of labor – they’re birth pangs. That bloody river just might be a sign of the life to come.
So what are you going to do with what look like signs of destruction and endings? What will you look for as Advent? What do you expect, hope for, anticipate?
What is going on in the church? End times, or the pressing of grapes, and the harvest of what’s been sown?
There are many conversations about end-times. Yesterday I sat with a group of Abrahamic religious leaders – Christian, Muslim, and Jewish, lay people, imams, rabbi, bishops and ministers, gathered in urgency to tackle the issue of peace in the Holy Land. We were able to say that the recent violence in Gaza and Israel was a sign of death and destruction and perhaps the end of hope for a two-state solution. But we also said, we’re all people of hope. We can’t see possibility without a state for each people. We have to do all in our power to motivate our own government to look for a new way forward. This chaos is a sign of God’s potential to create a new future. It only needs our partnership, our co-creation.
The grapes are being pressed. And out of that wine press flows our hope.