I was called out a couple weeks ago by one of you. One lady came up during the week and asked me why I don’t spend a lot of time preaching and doing Bible Studies on the Book of Revelation. She had been talking with some friends who attend other churches, and it dawned on her that I had never really talked about that particular book. So, she had some questions for me. As she began to question me, I was reminded of why I don’t spend a lot of time dragging the congregation through that particular book. I don’t know what it is about human beings, but it seems like the moment we get into that book, we start looking for the signs. Everyone seems to think that he or she will become the one that rightly interprets the book and figure out the precise moment of our Lord’s return. I shared with her that while in seminary, a couple Anglican luminaries had shared with those of us eating with them that we should, as pastors, never, ever lead a Bible study on the Book of Revelations. The men, renowned in our denomination circle for their ability to lead churches and disciple individuals, sort of hammered that into those of us there listening. When we asked why. They replied that the fights over interpretation had led to four church splits between them. My thought had been “if they can’t keep their churches together doing a Bible study on that book, there is no way in you know where that I am going to lead one on that book.” I told her that her questions had only confirmed for me I had made a wise choice.
The reason I don’t preach on the book, though, is entirely different. I am a firm believer that all Scripture is worthy of study and intended for our benefit. For those of you knew to this journey or this church, we follow a lectionary. By that I mean that we follow an assigned set of readings for every Sunday. A full rotation of the lectionary takes a church three years. And, the book of Revelation only comes up a few Sundays over that 156 Sundays and other assigned Holy Days. Simply put, there are not that many days upon which I can preach on it. And, if there is another reading about which I feel the Lord is calling me to speak into your lives . . . then we miss that opportunity for another three years. Fortunately for that parishioner, Revelations seemed perfect for where we are in light of our recent discernment and Vestry retreat.
Why is that? Think of the things in your life which cause you to question whether God really wins in the end. I won’t ask anyone to raise their hands, but . . . Does anyone have a serious health battle they are facing? Anyone here in unceasing pain? Anyone here facing questions of provision? Anyone here worried about the loss of a job? Any of you in the middle of some seriously strained relationships? That’s just internal stuff. Let’s look outside a bit. Anyone here feel like taxes and fees are really cutting into your ability to provide some essentials for yourself? Anyone here feel like the government works for the rich, provides for the destitute, but cares very little for those who work had, live responsibly, and try to make ends meet? Anyone here mocked at work for your faith? Anyone here feel lie our government bends over backwards for people of other faiths but allows Christians to be mocked with impunity? Let’s look wider still. Anyone feel like jobs would be great if they paid for more than the gasoline it took to get to work in the first place? Anyone worried that North Korea, or some other group, can sneak a nuclear device into the country? Anyone worried about a soldier in the family fighting in the Middle East? Anyone worried about another drought this year? Anyone worried about global warming? And, oh by the way, anyone worried about the morality of the world? We live in a time when those who lie or cheat are well-compensated, when video-recorded stupidity can get one all kinds of acclaim and fortune. Bad manners and evil seem to have no consequences. Now that I have listed a few reasons for people to have doubt, has anyone’s doubt increased? Then this passage, indeed this book, is for you!
Part of the difficulty we have when reading Revelation and Daniel and other such books is that we are not usual readers of apocalyptic literature. Put in a simpler way, I asked our parishioner if, 2000 years from now, she was certain that archaeologists would be able to understand the difference between a “news article” and a “editorial” from our local QC Times. We have that problem with apocalyptic literature. We do not read it much, so it is a challenge for us to read and, more importantly, to understand. This is not so much a criticism as an acknowledgement of reality. On Good Friday, we read about the curtain surrounding the Holy of Holies being rent from top to bottom. Apocalypse is a word which is similar to that image. Literally it is an apo “from” kalyptos “covering.” Things covered or hidden are being brought to light.
Another part of our difficult is the identification of those hidden things being brought to light. We as Christians often fight about the book because we are certain we know the meaning of the imagery. But, the more we study such literature, the more we are reminded of what we do not know. I’ll give you an example. Was the book written to tell us about the end times? Or was it written to encourage early Christians during a Roman Persecution? Or was it both? And was it written for other times? Does your answer change if I inform you that one of the great Persecutions occurred under Domitian, who ruled from AD 81- 96, the very time that John penned this book? What if it was an “all the above?” Would that change your desire to figure out how much time you had until His return? The truth is that the book was written, in part, to encourage those of the faith who were suffering and doubting. Like Thomas last week, the seeming rampage of evil can cause us to question our faith. Yet the Book of Revelation gives us an important glimpse of the future, a glimpse which reminds you and me that this, all that the world fights for, is not the prize for which we and other saints struggle. Our prize is eternal. Our focus is eternal, even though we are called to live and to work and to serve in the here and now.
Take a look at the reading. Who is being honored by the angels and all the living creatures? The Lamb. Have you ever wondered about this passage? I mean, seriously, who chooses a lamb as something worthy of inspiration? I know there are lots of sports teams that choose the name “lamb” to inspire their fans and strike fear in their enemies, right? I mean, there are tons of Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, and then lambs, right? So it seems only natural that angels and all living things would praise such a fierce creature, right? And, if you were a Roman, you can imagine the terror that such an animal would inspire in your citizens and armies, right? By your chuckling I can tell that most of you have figured out that there are not many lamb sports teams. So why does John use that language?
First, it is a vision. John is reporting what he sees. He sees the Lamb being honored by all of heaven. The second reason, of course, is that we are called to think of Jesus this time of year as the Lamb that was sacrificed for us. The Lord’s wrath for our sins were visited upon Him even as the Lord passes over our sins. For a people fresh out of Holy Week, this should raise all kinds of Passover imagery.
Why is it important? The passage reminds us, wherever we are in life, that God wins in the end. What happens in this passage? All of God’s people and creatures are worshipping and celebrating His victory. To those living under Roman persecutions, such a victory may have seemed a long way off. But was it any longer off than what it must have seemed to His disciples when He was hung on a cross, dead, and buried? Why do you think they locked the door of that upper room? Doubt was winning! To them, it seemed that evil had won; just as to us, we sometimes wonder whether God can overcome a particular evil in our life. But this passage reminds us of the import of the Cross and Resurrection and God’s power to keep all His promises to us. Better still, it reminds us why we gather around this table each time that we do. For those few moments when we gather each week to fortify ourselves against the onslaught of the world what do we do? We participate in this celebration, admittedly not in the fullest or complete sense, each time we gather. We join our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to do what? To celebrate His victory and our redemption! And just like the bread and the wine that we share as a “pledge” of His promise, so to is the joining of our voices now just a hint of the choir into which we have all be brought. As Paul says, now we see and sing and taste dimly. One day, though, we will see clearly, sing beautifully, and taste fully. And, as this passage reminds us, if our Lord can redeem the death of His Son and call Him home to be honored, He can certainly redeem each one of us and call us home to be a part of that celebration! Reminded of His power and promise, we are uniquely equipped to go forth into the world, ministering to those whom He places in our path, accounting to them of the joy and hope that is within us!