Thought for the Day by Toby Parsons (All Hallows’)
Sneaking a look at the last few chapters
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, would you think differently about the series if JK Rowling had never written the final book, but had stopped after ‘The Half-blood Prince’, at the bottom of the astronomy tower?
Or if you love an Agatha Christie whodunnit, would you feel cheated if ‘And then there were none’ ended whilst there were still three people alive on the island?
In today’s reading from Revelation 13, we see a seven-headed beast emerging from the sea to flood the world with boastfulness, blasphemy and unchallengeable destructive power. You can almost feel your fingers itching to turn the pages and get to the comparative safety of the last two chapters of Revelation!
And of course it’s important to see things in their wider context. It wouldn’t be helpful to focus on chapter 13 in isolation, or indeed on Revelation without the rest of the Bible.
But is our instinctive wish to know what comes next, to fast forward to the ending, slightly different from that need to understand the bigger picture? Janet and I are currently making our way through the complete box set of ‘The West Wing’. It comes with a tempting little booklet that summarises the plot in each episode. And I keep wanting to glance forward and see what it says about the cliffhanger at the end of the next series, or the climax of the seventh and final season.
I imagine there are lots of different reasons why we might want to know in advance how it all ends. Perhaps simple human curiosity is part of it, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. And of course the need for hope, for confidence that it will be alright in the end, is a strong influence.
But does our relentless looking ahead stop us fully experiencing the here and now? Does it come from a resentment that things aren’t as we’d want them to be?
There’s been a lot of discussion this week about how and when a vaccine might be rolled out. And we’ve had plenty of speculation in the news about what the covid rules might be over Christmas. They’re natural questions, and I suspect every single one of us has thought about them. But do they add to the stress and pressure that we feel, as we constantly re-adjust to one uncertainty after another? And does the focus on the ending hold us back from inhabiting the moment that we’re really in?
I suspect that none of us would want to live in the world of the beast from Revelation 13. And surely few people would choose to experience Advent and Christmas through the prism of a pandemic.
As Clive wrote in his thought for the day on 4 November: hope trumps lockdown; Covid will end; this will be over. That’s the ending, and we trust in God to sustain us until it comes about. But for now, we live in the middle of the story. And with that comes an opportunity to immerse ourselves in what’s around us – friends and neighbours who are really open for spiritual refreshment this Christmas; the invitation to build prayerful walks into our lockdown routine; or the chance to slow our own pace and reflect on what the words of the carols we sing each year are really saying to us.
We know the ultimate ending. Jesus helped us sneak a look at the last few chapters. And maybe that lets us embrace, or just accept, our place in the middle of the current story.