Lent 2 – Just a Dream Away!
Rev. Isaac Bradshaw
Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 16, Romans 8:31–39, Mark 8:31-38
How many of us in the room have ever dreamed of the future? Not just in the mere “one day I will live on the beach,” but… One day we will have flying cars or travel past the speed of light to explore the galaxy or super-duper fusion engines that end the fighting for energy. Robots that end the need for work or medicines and computers that spend the energy from the super-duper fusion engines to heal and preserve life. Monorails zipping people from leisure to leisure.
Of course, according to Stanley Kubrick, 20 years ago, TWA was supposed to be flying regularly scheduled flights civilian flights to a moon base, a crewed mission to Jupiter! And an artificial intelligence that is, ya know, just a little psycopathic. Or the kind of Disney World Carousel of Progress:
There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
And tomorrow’s just a dream away
I know we like icons, so… Here’s a couple of icons from my house about the future: Nautilus. Mass Effect.
So what about you? What’s your favorite view of the future?
But what about this one? This is an icon from a dystopian future: it’s the city… village? Settlement? Of Megaton from the videogame fallout 3. In the story, it’s a settlement that has settled around the rim of a crater caused by an * unexploded* atomic bomb, 200 years after an atomic war wiped out the area around Washington DC. The houses are built from salvaged metal and airplanes. The water is radiated. Outside the walls, giant mutated animals and unpleasant people called “raiders” hunt the unwary. But fear not! A cult has grown up around the bomb, worshipping “Atom…” The priest chants: “he cometh in the clouds!” a kind of mix-up of nuclear war and Christianity. Or a less cheery version of A Canticle for Leibowitz, a not-very cheery book itself.
In fact, in art and publishing, we have two very different views of the future: the one futurism like Carousel of Progress and the Jetson’s, and another dystopia, broken by humanity’s sin and destruction and insatiable desire for violence. Robots like the Jetsons’ Rosie or robots like Blade Runner’s Roy Blatty, struggling to become fully human.
I want to suggest that this schizophrenic view of the future in sci-fi and popular imagination arises out of the human capacity to be aware of our enjoyment of God’s creation, of our relationship with one another and The Creator who gave us life, and at the same time know we are going to die. We can’t quite connect the two. So we spread them out into two types of media; utopia vs. dystopia. It’s the only way our brain and our spirits and our souls can comprehend that, “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”
The problem is that when we bifurcate these two things, when we separate the knowledge of our own mortality from the blessed experience of God’s creation, we miss out what it means to be fully human. The world is neither a dystopia of the Capital Wasteland or shining, perfected city of Tomorrow. It simply is. I suppose that’s why futurist fiction saying, “Basically, the future will be exactly like today, except in small ways,” fails to find an audience. We gotta separate them: dystopia in one hand, utopia in the other.
In today’s Gospel we have the strongest statement of Jesus yet about his impending death and resurrection. Even the Gospeller makes note: “He said this plainly.” And yet, Peter, never the one to glob on very quickly, actually fusses at Jesus.
And Jesus responds strongly: “Get behind me, satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
I’ve often wondered what it was that Peter was suggesting. Was it a kind of fussing over suggesting the religious leaders were going to be the ones who would be responsible for his death? Jesus calls him Satan, the accuser: is Peter accusing Jesus of something? Sedition? Of trying to destroy the temple? Was it that Peter was giving an escape route: “You can avoid death this way!” Don’t talk to us about death, talk to us about the future. A future of whizz-bang things, of the restoration of the Hosue of Israel to power, of defeating our enemies and the destruction of Roman tyranny! A future where you, Jesus, is in charge.
Peter’s temptation is to reject the potential for dystopia, the future in which Jesus is no longer on the scene, no longer leading them around the Palestinian desert, no longer healing the lame or giving sight back to the blind or casting out demons; no longer with the potential of the future. You can’t sing “There’s a gret big beautiful tomorrow!” if the next line is “And I’m going to die!” “Think, jesus! All those moments: the healing of cripples, raising the dead, will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Jesus follows up by turning to the crowd and tells them to “Take up their cross and follow” him. He makes several… disturbing comments. If you lose your life for his sake, you’ll gain it. If you try to gain the world, you’ll lose your soul. A firm rebuke to whatever it was that Peter was suggesting.
It is easy for us to read these and come to the conclusion that we are supposed to be fighters. That we are to go out and seek out conflict with unbelievers. To seek out losing our life for Christ’s sake. This, I’d argue, is the flip-side of Peter’s utopia; a dystopia that sees a world that isn’t created by God, that isn’t good as the Father described in Genesis 1, but a world that is evil; not deprived of good, but is evil in its essence, and will kill you, and you should be prepared to die.
And there is an element of truth to that. The world does have those who are unalterably opposed to the purposes of God. But Jesus is not telling us to go out and be obnoxious, but to be willing to follow him to the cross. And to follow to the cross means to be willing to die, not for a wizz-bang future, not in opposition to a dystopian world, but for the world.
That willingness to die for the world flows from our faith in Jesus’ resurrection. Our actions, day in, day out, reflect that central commitment to our lives: that because Jesus lives for us, we live for others.
In the way that we have ordered our eucharistic prayer for Lent, we pause to receive the elements half-way through the prayer. Normally, we have the institution narrative, the ritual re-telling of the Last Supper, then a series of prayers that focus on the sacrificial aspects of the Supper: we earnestly desire your fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this, our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
In our normal ordering, it’s easy for us to get a slightly mistaken idea: that it is the bread and wine are the “sacrifice” being offered to God. But it isn’t; the sacrifice we offer to God is our Selves. Our souls. Our bodies. We take the sacrament and are mystically and sacramentally united to Christ’s sacrifice and Christ Himself, interceding on our behalf in heaven; the high priest of the heavenly temple. We then pray: receive this sacrifice…. Receive us. Send us out. We are the ram in the thicket for your neighbors. And we do that because Jesus did it first.
I want to be clear, because this can be easily misunderstood: the sacrifice of ourselves, our souls and bodies is unequivocally not something we do alone. Our mystical union with Christ takes place by faith through the action of the Holy Spirit. The Chosen, Royal Priesthood is a priesthood called by the Holy Spirit to live and die for others through faith in Christ. You cannot do it by yourself. After all: we are unworthy, because of our many sins, to offer you any sacrifice, yet we ask you to accept this duty and service we owe,
This is what brings together those two ideas we set separately in our head: utopian dreaming of the future and the threat of dystopia. Jesus pulls these ideas together: to live for the future is to be willing to die, not for the future, but for those with whom we live alongside, in normal, everyday existence. The things of God that Jesus refers Peter to focus on is that willingness to die. The future we dream, the future that Jesus dreams, is a world in which all things are reconciled to Christ, given life from Him because of our faith in Him. A world where the everyday becomes extraordinary; where ever person, every animal, every rock, every tree lives according to the wisdom and relationship with its Creator.
Make no mistake: we are dystopians: We are dying. We will die. But we are also Utopians: we hope for a future in which all things are reconciled to Christ, and we offer ourselves, our souls and bodies to God for that purpose: because…
So there’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow Shining at the end of every day There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow Just a dream away