The birth pains of a new world

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Detail of a Greek Orthodox fresco showing Prochorus the scribe writing as John dictates the Book of Revelation. Photo: Theastock

“How are you doing in these strange times?” I hear it often. The word “strange” suggests we are in a time that is out of ordinary and hard to interpret. I would suggest, however, that this is a time that reveals something we have forgotten.

Jesus described this age, between his first and second advent, as a time of labour pains (Mark 13:8). It is an image that Paul uses to describe Creation’s yearning for the World to Come (Romans 8:22) and his own struggle to see Jesus become a reality in the communal life of discipleship (Galatians 4:19). We live in the time of the birth pains of the Messiah who will bring a New Heaven and a New Earth.

The image of birth pains illuminates every aspect of Creation and our life within it. It is a call for us to follow Jesus into his total identification with the suffering—human and otherwise—of this age. But it is also a word of hope. In it we can see a trajectory of life and light. We have become, we see in the Eucharist, the first-fruits of this New Creation (James 1:18).

Many of the Christian churches, especially in the West—and most especially in the West’s colonial aspect—have walked away from this image. It is, however, an aspect of our life in Creation that is so powerfully revealed in our time. With the pain of the pandemic, we have seen the truth of our common humanity, the truth of our communion with Creation. It’s a revealing that is also a calling to renewed discipleship and a renewed humanity.

John in his Book of Revelation sees this mixture of suffering, glory, and hope as the shape of our life in Christ and the consequence of our following him. Like Jesus, we identify with the sufferings of humanity and Creation, show the miraculous power and love of God, and await and hasten the coming of God’s reign in a New Heaven and New Earth—a reality that is pregnant in every aspect of this time (Revelation 1:9).

Indigenous peoples, here and around the world, are living close to the messianic realities of this time, in both pain and promise. The sufferings of the time of colonization—poverty, sickness, and marginalization—have, in many ways, accelerated in this pandemic. But, in the midst of it, there has been a birth of hope, a movement towards freedom and life. This is the call of the self-determining Indigenous Sacred Circle, but it is certainly not its call alone. May the life of our crucified and risen Messiah find in us a pathway, a way of life, that makes real, in this world, the life of the World to Come.

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Mark MacDonald

Mark MacDonald

Archbishop Mark MacDonald is national Indigenous archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.

2 Responses

  1. Mark, you so eloquently pinpoint that hope sprouted from love & rooted in faith, walks us through the pain to prepare the way of the Lord. Thank you for such succinct thought.

  2. We are celebrating the birth of a child in our church community with great joy and thanksgiving. The child has been anticipated for months, if not years with unsuccessful attempts at conception and gestation. The cry, “How long, O Lord?” has gone up by, and on behalf of this couple. A few weeks before the planned ‘inducement’ she said how she was loving being pregnant and wished this stage would go on for a while. The birth pangs had not yet begun.
    I wonder if many of us express this sentiment with regard to the church and the world in relation to the Birth Pangs. Like this expectant mother, we sense that the birth pangs will bring with them change; and we intuit that the changes will be far-reaching. So, “maybe later, but not now”. The status quo seems best. As if we had any say in the birth or the birth pangs of a new age – Ha!

    One thing about birth – it is important to know who is doing the birthing and who is being birthed. I think we are the ones being ‘born-again’ in the new age of the Spirit. And from the picture of the newborn mentioned above, the kid’s face was kind of flat, and my wife informed me that birth can do that to a face, which she anticipated would find its ‘pre-labour’ shape. No wonder we resist the labour pangs (or deny they are even happening)! Through rebirth will be transformed (which may also include being deformed), so the suffering is real. And so is the hope.

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