Revolution or Revelation?

My two school-aged daughters have become recent self-professed Swifties. Their favorite auntie attended the Eras tour this past summer and they begged, pleaded, offered all the chores they could muster just to get tickets. There were none to be had (on a preacher and teacher’s family salary) so they were elated when the movie came out and the same auntie promised to get them all gussied up and watch the concert in the local megaplex.

We’ve been through a season of mega gatherings, musical concerts that fill stadiums across the world, that scratch at a seemingly lost ache for religious experience. Beyonce’s Renaissance World Tour, U2 at the Sphere in Vegas, and T. Swift’s Eras offer spectacle and gathering that seemed to rock the whole world (if my social media feed is any testament). The Barbenheimer phenomenon brought film fanatics back to the theaters after streaming solo in our living rooms for years.

It's left more than one preacher wondering, what about us? What about our sermons and sanctuaries? What about our cathedrals and our fellowship halls? Do we matter anymore?

On one of my favorite podcasts, Cafeteria Christian, psychotherapist and Jungian analyst, Whitney Logan, commented on the phenomenon, having attended the Eras tour twice. She observed “thousands of people crying, holding each other, straining to get a glimpse of this one human woman.” Logan described how we live in a time when we are adrift from religious symbol and practice and experience. People are projecting this longing onto celebrity and a variety of people in public life. [Whitney Logan, “Taylor Swift and the Religious Instinct,” Cafeteria Christian, October 2, 2023, ]

This experience is nothing new to our moment in history. Hollywood has been cast in a bronze mythology of celebrity since its origins. Our common spaces are filled with edifices that memorialize heroes sometimes worthy of glory and sometimes in ways that attempt to glorify the horrors of the past. We glorify and celebritize all sorts of things in our fandoms from the mythology of Marvel to the dreams of our children. We pick our favorite preachers and build palaces of personality that perform faith for us. We swipe through YouTubers and TikToktresses as crowds of viral faithful watching their humor or spectacle or generosity or outrage in byte-sized downloads of digital delight. But perhaps, in each of these attempts, we miss the point. Perhaps there is a broader story that is calling out to us from our pop culture mythologies of mere mortals in our midst.

In this season of Lent, we pause before the week we call Holy. We gather before the so-called “triumphal” entry, before the palm branches; before the hubbub and procession; before the organ and brass playing “All Glory Laud and Honor;” before dewy-eyed children singing, “Ho-ho-ho-hosanna.” This is the final week of the season of Lent, preparing us for a moment and a memory that changed the world.

But in John’s gospel, Palm Sunday has already happened. The crowds pressed in, waved their branches, called out for a king to save them. Jesus is at the peak of his seeming celebrity, gathering crowds wherever he walks, crowds that long for a miracle and a mindset, crowds that project all of their hopes and fears and dreams and longings onto this teacher, this rabbi.

The scriptures tell us that among the crowd were Greeks who go to Philip with their own demands, “We want to see Jesus!” I can imagine the pitter-patter in Philip as he goes to Andrew, an entourage of giggles and whispers at the growing demand to see Jesus. They both approach Jesus who responds with clear direction to the moment, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

This is it! This is the time! We knew this was coming but we didn’t know how or when! But with some very-trulys and whosoevers, Jesus shows a different kind of glory. A glory the disciples have resisted time and again. A story that nobody wants to belong to.

We can imagine that the crowd continues to gather, pushing closer to hear every word, when Jesus gets apocalyptic, preaching of a world that is yet to come, but still pressing in from just around the corner. Jesus calls to God, “Father, glorify your name.” (A name considered so holy it is unutterable.) With the pyrotechnics greater than any stadium tour, a voice from heaven speaks, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd misses the point, murmuring about angels and thunder, dismissing the holiness of the moment right before them.

Jesus gets apocalyptic, but without the brimstone of my childhood Baptist preacher. “Now is the judgement of this world,” he says. “Now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Apocalypse now! A shock to the system that wakes us from ordinary rhythms to see the sacred scattering all around us. Jesus isn’t a doomsday preacher screeching from a street corner. Jesus isn’t seeking clicks with the latest outrage post. Jesus isn’t filling a stadium to stroke his ego or fill his soul. He is stirring apocalypse now in what Walter Brueggemann calls an “unrestrained act of imagination.” [Walter Brueggemann, “A Music-Making Counter Community,” Church Anew, June 19, 2023,]

Jesus is stirring from sayings in Isaiah where God expands the circle of welcome and promises to bring strangers and immigrants and foreigners “to my holy mountain…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7) But God’s house is not only in the temple, the stadium where all the action is happening over this Passover season. God’s house is in the body of Jesus, the ministry of this teacher from the edge of the world. The Greeks can feel it in their bones. They are drawn to Jesus, like the crowds on Palm Sunday, even if they seem to miss the point.

As we pause before this week we call holy, before walking day-by-day through a story that we have heard hundreds if not thousands of times; before the ho-ho-ho-hosannas, and (dare I say it) ha-ha-ha-llelujahs; before the supper and the cross and the tomb and the silence; before the resurrection and the fanfare and the toccata in fugue and the Easter eggbake (at least in the frozen tundra where I live). In this apocalyptic moment that brings the end near, Jesus invites us to see the full picture, the cosmic picture of what is happening for us and for the whole planet.

My favorite cosmic scripture is in the book of Revelation. Not the doomsday Revelation which is fun in its own right, but not for today. No, Jesus is pointing to the promise in Revelation. It lurks in the very final verses of the Bible itself. In its “unrestrained act of imagination,” Revelation calls us into a vision of Jesus that defies the boxes the crowds in Jerusalem and the disciples placed him in, a vision that defies our contemporary confusion of celebrity with deity. In one of the final scenes of the book, a very different John walks through God’s new home, made among mortals, where God will be with us. It is a glorious city, sparkling with promise on every corner, dancing with divinity down wall and window, walkway and worldview. But something is missing, glaringly absent from the vision.

Revelations says, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:22-23)

The temple is the city itself, with a river for all who are thirsty, a tree of life for any who hunger, and leaves for the healing of the nations. The cityscape pulses with the heartbeat of God whose glory is not contained in temple mount or stained glass, in viral video or stadium tour, in a silent sacred name, a clarified creed or a prolific personality. This is a God who intimately wipes every tear and boldly builds a new creation.

Every time our imagination limits the impact of Jesus, the box just gets bigger, the welcome gets broader, the possibility gets profounder. We might catch a glimpse of it in the stadium tours or viral videos. We might feel it in fellowship halls and smell it in somber sanctuaries. But it is also all around us. As Revelation preaches, “The home of God is among mortals!” (Revelation 21:3) Here, but not yet, surprising us when the veil is lifted subtly, delighting us with awe in the thin moments when God leans in close with a quiet whisper, when Jesus calls not from thunder but from a clear promise.

I spend a lot of time among other parents in the overwhelm of practice and rehearsal and recital and match. You know, the rinse-and-repeat nature of parenting younglings. We are all watching our children emerge from the limitations of toddler tantrums into the curious personalities and expressions that grow among their peers. They’re trying things on for size, talking about things they don’t quite understand, trying activities for no other reason than they want to. I watch parents try to make more of it, purchasing masterclasses, special sports camps, adding to the schedule and the weight. And I get it. We want possibilities for our kids. We want to see them grow and emerge. But I also see many of us, me included, missing the point.

The other day, my daughter sheepishly told me she wanted to audition for a solo in her upcoming class performance. Donning my middle-aged-dad-ism, I turned it into a lesson, “Wow, honey! I’m so proud of you for trying that! Would you like to practice?” My mind quickly went to my own performances, my own attempts at musicianship, and how I could help her prepare. She literally shrank in front of me, in front of the weight of my expectations. She sat on the floor, hidden behind the counter and behind the dreams I had mustered in an instant. I missed the point: She wanted to sing this song for the simple act of singing it.

Perhaps in our attempts to celebritize mere mortals in our midst, we are turning our hopes and dreams and fears and longings to the wrong place. Whether with our children, the teams we watch, the stars we follow, the influencer faces on our screens, we, like the disciples and the crowd, put people in the boxes of our expectations.

The inimitable Elizabeth Schuyler chides Alexander Hamilton in Lin Manuel-Miranda’s fabulous couplet: “You want a revolution? I want a revelation.” [Lin Manuel-Miranda, “The Schuyler Sisters,” Hamilton, 2015.] The crowd may have gathered expecting a revolution, a king who would topple the government, flip the script, and change their lot. But what they received was a revelation. Jesus is absolutely revealed in our sanctuaries, whether they swell to pre-pandemic proportions, or whether they tenderly care for a remnant few. We can indeed catch a glimpse of Jesus in moments of transcendence witnessing art and song and dance and spectacle. But Jesus’s reminders in this final discourse are ordinary, mundane, and simple. A seed in the ground. A grain of wheat. And a final blessing, as Jesus reminds the crowd and his beloved followers, “The light is in you.”

When my daughter finally opened her mouth in song, she made me go to the other room. She sang, first quietly, her heart beating through her breath, “When I grow up; I will be tall enough to reach the branches; that I need to reach to climb the trees; you get to climb when you’re grown up.” [Tim Minchin, “When I Grow Up,” Matilda the Musical, 2011.]

A revelation. The light is in my daughter. The light is in you. The light is in me. When we put the light on a pedestal, build it a beautiful box, rehearse it over and again, or parade it out in front of everyone; when we make it excellent, or make it perfect, or shine it up or color it pink, it is still the light. The light sparks whether we notice it or not, whether we tend it or believe it or pray about it or attend that church service that celebrates it so wonderfully.

The light is in you, in ordinary moments that spark with the same love that lit the stars. So, in the words of the great philosopher, Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Slow down, settle in, light a candle, take a breath, listen to a child sing.

And may we all, with Jesus’ invitation, “believe in the light, and become children of the light.” And may the children among us, as they always do, lead the way.