One of my favorite movies is 1993's "Groundhog Day." In this movie, Bill Murray portrays a narcissistic, egocentric meteorologist named Phil Connors who begrudgingly travels from the television station where he works in Pittsburgh to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for their renowned Groundhog Day celebration. After giving a half-hearted report on the day's festivities, Phil tries to leave Punxsutawney, along with his crew, only to be snowed in by a blizzard which forces them to stay an extra night. When Phil wakes up the next morning, ready and eager to leave this reviled township, he finds that it is February 2 all over again. The balance of the movie portrays Phil trying to exit Punxsutawney in sometimes comical, sometimes romantic, sometimes pathetic ways. But he remains perpetually trapped in Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day until he finally finds true love with a member of his crew named Rita and the movie ends.
Talk about a day that never ends. Over and over again, Phil tries to bring February 2 to its terminus. Over and over again, he is unsuccessful. It seems like Groundhog Day would have to end eventually. But it didn't.
Perhaps you've had a similar, even if not so paranormal, experience. It seems like something would have to end eventually. But it doesn't. You try to reach a destination, but the road in front of you seems to stretch endlessly into the horizon. You are caring for a baby who, despite your best efforts at feeding, diaper changing, and rocking, won't stop crying. You are listening to a sermon, and again and again you glance at your watch, waiting and wondering, "When will this end?" It seems like these things would have to end eventually. But they don't.
In our reading for today from Revelation 8, we reach what seems to be the end of John's vision. For the world has suffered its final terrible moments as seals of destruction are opened, and chapter 7 then ends with what sounds like God's final promise of salvation: "Never again will people hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:16-17). Chapter 8 then opens, "When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour" (verse 1). Silence is a well-known image for the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament. As the prophet Zephaniah says, "Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near" (Zephaniah 1:7). John's verbal and visual cues are unmistakable: the end of the world has come.
"Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them" (verse 6). What? I thought the world had already ended with the opening of the seven seals. What are these seven trumpets? It seems like the end of the world should have come. But it doesn't.
There is much biblical literature, especially that of an apocalyptic and symbolic character, which progresses in a non-linear fashion. That is, the events explicated in some biblical stories are not so much sequential as they are thematic. Indeed, one of the most famous and obvious examples of this comes to us in the very first chapters in the very first book of the Bible. Genesis 1:27 informs us, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Thus, human beings come into existence. But then, in the very next chapter, we learn, "This is the account of the heavens and earth when they were created. The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" (Genesis 2:4, 7). God here creates a human being named Adam. But wait. I thought God already created humans in Genesis 1. What's going on here? The author of Genesis is doing what many biblical writers do. He gives a preliminary description of an event and then comes back and takes another pass at it.
Such is what John is doing with his seven seals followed by his seven trumpets. These two sequences of "sevens" actually cover the same period of time, as told from two different perspectives. Indeed, the NIV translates verse 6 unfortunately when it begins, "Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them." The Greek word for "then" is kai, a simple conjunction meaning "and" rather than a temporal marker meaning "then." Thus, John is saying, "I've given you one take at what the end of the world will look like. Now, I'm going to take another pass at it. Now, I'm going to give you a new perspective. I know it seems like everything should end, but in my book, it doesn't. It's going to be Groundhog Day all over again."
So, as we continue our trek through Revelation, time has ended once. But it will end again. And for that matter, it will end again after that. After all, you can never talk about Christ's return enough. That's why I'm thankful for all the different perspectives that John gives us.