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“Mayday! Mayday!” by Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! You have probably heard the news from last week that Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, has purchased media platform Twitter. This has set off a whole round of bargaining between media giants YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, who are in negotiations to merge all three of those companies. Initial plans are to call the new conglomerate YouTwitFace. Marketing is still working on that.
That was not an actual news story — at least the part about the merger. It’s good to find something to laugh about, because lately the news has been pretty grim. At least the events of the world news. Here in the church, we claim to have the good news: Christ is risen! He is no longer dead, and has defeated the curse of death forever. That ought to be something that we are pretty happy about, because that is the best news we could have for now and for eternity.
I’d suggest that Christians are always living in the tension between the world as it “is,” and by that, I mean what we experience and have reported to us of current events, and the world which God has promised, and by that, I mean what we read in scripture and what we long for and pray for. We are constantly between the kingdoms of earth and the kingdom of heaven. I am confident you are going to hear more about this dynamic from Tim Morphew in the coming months. But for the next few weeks, I’m going to be referencing a biblical book that I doubt if Tim will use very much: it’s the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Revelation is a literary genre called an “apocalypse,” which is a vision of the end of the world, so it should not be surprising that Revelation is all about the tension between this world and the next world. Here’s a spoiler alert: Christ wins. Our risen and resurrected Lord is introduced in these opening verses, with the claim that he is the Alpha and the Omega — the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, the A to Z, the beginning and the end. This world has had its beginning already: it was created by God according to God’s plan, and God declared it good. We haven’t gotten to the ending yet, but that too has been decided by God: he has made his son Jesus firstborn from the dead and rulers of the kings of the earth. We’re told how this is going to end, but there’s still some stuff in the middle to get worked out.
We have an opportunity this morning to look at this theological concept of the coming kingdom of God — the theological term is “eschatology” — through a particular word. Today is May Day, May 1st. Other days in this month are May days, days of May, but only the first day is May Day. Did any of you do things for May Day, either growing up or as adults? I remember decorating plastic strawberry baskets — you know, the square green plastic ones — putting on pipe cleaner handles and filling them with flowers and putting them on our neighbors’ porches. It was the only time we were encouraged to ring their doorbells and run away. I don’t remember much else from my own experience. May Day was celebrated throughout pre-Christian Europe, and even after the coming of Christianity as the beginning of spring — a fertility festival, essentially, to recognize that the earth had come back to life, and animals were coming out of their winter dens and nests and holes and houses ready to multiply and re-populate the earth. Psalm 8, which was the basis of our Call to Worship and opening song today, is a creation psalm, which catches the spirit of praising God for this wonderful world, and for including us — human beings! — in the order of the moon and stars, and just a little lower than the angels. What a privilege to be part of this amazing world. If you can pass by the blossoming trees — there are at least 3 along the driveway into Creekside — if you can see those and not be moved to praise God, then you are made of different stuff than the psalmist, and Gail Vance, and me.
On the other hand, May Day has another meaning; a much more recent meaning. May Day is the international distress signal used by ships and especially planes to let radio operators know they are in trouble. When the telegraph was a thing, in the age of ocean travel, S-0-S was easily transmitted and received as . . . – – – . . . but with the invention of the radio, S-O-S became less often used. If you’re in distress, you don’t want to say S in Sam, not F as in Frank. A radio operator in Corydon, England proposed something simple and easy to say, which would not be mistaken for something more benign. A lot of the airplane traffic he was involved with was crossing the English Channel, so French pilots should be able to recognize it, too. M’aider is French for “help me” so in 1923, Mayday was proposed as the international radio distress signal, and it was made official in 1948. You’re supposed to say it three times Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! To distinguish it from conversation about plans for tea on May 1. My internet search about this term turned up the question, “What does a pilot say right before his or her plane crashes?” I thought I could guess, and sure it isn’t something I should say from the pulpit, but it turns out there is an international code phrase that you don’t ever want to hear if you’re a passenger on a commercial airline.
So those are the two meanings of May Day: this beautiful, burgeoning world, created and loved by God, and this world that we see or read about or watch on TV where things and people just seem like they are going down. I don’t have to give you examples — they are all around us. Both of these things are realities. I’m not denying the truth of either one of them. What I will say is that one of these truths has a lot more staying power than the other. Jesus Christ, the Alpha, was in the beginning before creation even began, and Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead and the rulers of the kings of the earth is the Omega: he will be on the throne with God when all of these other things have passed away. And Jesus is not only the Alpha and the Omega, he is the Beta, Delta, Gamma, and all those other Greek letters in between. Because Jesus is not only with us in the messy middle; Jesus is how we make sense of the messy middle; Jesus is the solution to the messy middle; Jesus is our only way through the messy middle.
Revelation 1:5-6 gives a really short summary of what Christ has done for us, and what we are to do for Christ. If you want the longer version you can find it almost anywhere in the New Testament. Here are verses 5 and 6:
To him who freed us from our sins by his blood, and us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Revelation is crammed full of worship. Granted, some of it is kind of odd — creatures with eyes all over them and lots of wings — but we need to be able to hear the message which is behind all the special effects. It’s about worship, and worship which takes a particular form. Not a certain order of service, or a particular style of music; not even people of a specific race or nationality — the vision of Revelation is clear that folks from all nations are included. The key to worship in Revelation is allegiance.
Because we have been freed from our sins by the blood of Christ, we are already part of the new kingdom which Christ is bringing to earth. Our part of the kingdom is to give Christ and God the Father glory and dominion forever and ever. Glory and dominion are an interesting pair of words. To give Christ glory means to direct our praise to Him, our songs, our prayers, our adoration. To give Christ dominion means to give Him our allegiance. Allegiance means our trust, our obedience, and our lives. Revelation was written at a time when martyrdom was a real thing for followers of Jesus Christ. If you refused to make a public pledge allegiance to the kingdom of Rome, you could be killed. No one had any illusions that, ah, they’re kind of the same thing. You had to choose: the kingdom of this world, or Christ’s kingdom.
That choice has not gone away. It looks different today than it did for the first Christians, but that choice will always face those of us who have been saved by the One who loves us and who freed us from our sins by his blood. The kingdoms of this earth exploit the resources of this earth: not only the air and the water and the minerals and the fossil fuel which God created, but the people who God created who are ground down in the machinery of capitalism and war. There’s money to be made there, and glory to be won. It will all eventually return to dust. Allegiance to Christ means playing the long game — the Omega game. We aren’t betting that Christ will win; Christ has already won. Christ has defeated death and is the ruler of the kings of the earth. History will be done when every person realizes Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! I’m going down and cannot save myself, and we recognize the glory and dominion of Christ and proclaim My God, How Great Thou Art. It is important to enjoy the beauty of creation — it is a matter of life and death for us to give glory and dominion to the Creator, and to Christ, the Lord of all. Amen.