Archive for the 'Revelation' Category

For Sept. 28, 2014: St Michael and All Angels

The Reading            Genesis 28:10-17

The readings for the feast of St Michael and All Angels are full of angels. In Genesis, Jacob the conniver, fleeing from the brother he has fleeced, stops for the night far from what he thinks of as God’s country. Even here, however, and despite his guile, the Lord finds him and has plans for him.

The Response            Psalm 103:19-22

Psalm 103:19-22 calls on all creation to bless the Lord: the angels who do as the Lord orders, the hosts of heaven who minister, all the works of the Lord, and finally the psalmist’s own God-created soul.

The Epistle            Revelation 12:7-12

In Revelation 12:7-12, forces let by the mighty archangel Michael throw Satan and his angels out of heaven. That the infuriated devil is en route is bad news for earth and sea, but his time is short and we are not defenseless.

The Gospel            John 1:47-51

John 1:47-51 alludes to Genesis 28:10-17, the Old Testament reading. Nathanael, unlike Jacob, is no deceiver—in fact, he may be gullible in proclaiming Jesus the Son of God just because Jesus noticed him under the fig tree—but, like Jacob, Nathanael and we will see angels at work bringing heaven to earth, by way of Jesus.

 

Further thoughts

The Bible mentions angels about 270 times, including the mentions in the Michaelmas readings. The Anglican tradition recognizes four named archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel.

Michael (Hebrew mi-cha-’el ‘who (is) like God?’) is named in the book of Daniel; as the warrior angel of Revelation he is the patron of military members and mariners and, since his late-fall feast day coincides with harvest, of grocers. British banks still call the last quarter of the calendar year the Michaelmas quarter.

Gabriel (gabri-’el ‘my strength (is/be) God’) is named in the book of Daniel and in the deuterocanonical book of Enoch. Identified with the angel of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, he is the patron saint of postal workers, broadcasters and other communications workers, the clergy, and stamp collectors.

Raphael (rafa-’el ‘my healer (is/be) God’) appears in the deuterocanonical book of Tobit as the guide and healer of Tobit’s son Tobias, and by tradition he is the angel who stirs the pool of healing waters in John 5:7. He is the patron saint of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lovers, travelers, and nightmares.

Uriel (uri-’el ‘my light (is/be) God’) is named in the deuterocanonical books of Enoch and 2 Esdras, in the latter as the instructor of the prophet Ezra. He is the patron saint of the rite of Confirmation and of poetry.

The word angel is from Greek ἄγγελος or ángelos, which translates the Hebrew word mal’akh ‘messenger or agent’; in biblical times both words refer to either human or heavenly beings. St Jerome’s fourth-century Vulgate Bible first reserves angelus for divine messengers and nuntius or legatus ‘delegate, emissary’ for humans.

In today’s world, evidence of angelic intervention seems rare—but our brothers and sisters at home and abroad cry out for the protection, truth, healing, and light that Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel have represented. What if that means that the angels of the 21st century are you and me?

For Sept. 29, 2013: the Feast of St Michael

The Reading            Genesis 28:10-17

For the feast of St Michael and All Angels, we take a break from jeremiads to read an account of what Jacob dreams the night he flees from his justifiably angry brother Esau. He is in unfamiliar territory where people worship other gods—but the dream is itself a messenger by which he learns that, even in this place and even given the dirty tricks he’s pulled on his brother, he and God are by no means finished with each other.

The Response            Psalm 103 or 103:19-22

“Bless the Lord, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion; bless the Lord, O my soul.”

The Epistle            Revelation 12:7-12

To English speakers, using the word angel of allies of the Devil in dragon form sounds odd, but angel comes from a Greek word meaning ‘messenger’—or, perhaps more fittingly for this reading—‘emissary’. That the reading ends with the angry devil thrown down to earth is sobering for those of us still here—but the good news is that our deceitful accuser is no longer the only one representing our cases before God.

The Gospel            John 1:47-51

“‘I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’”

 

Further thoughts

What does it take to be an angel?

Whatever it is, Jacob seems an unlikely candidate. As this Sunday’s reading opens, he is running for his life from his elder twin Esau, whom he has fleeced again, and perhaps from his father’s God as well. A halo is clearly not part of his ensemble. When it is too dark to go further, he falls asleep on pagan ground, his pillow a stone that may be from a pagan’s cairn and the “ladder” of his dream the ramp or stairway of a pagan temple. Yet God and God’s angels are there; Psalm 103’s reference to “all places of [God’s] dominion” must mean anywhere and everywhere. Jacob is awed and humbled, and opened to becoming God’s malakh himself.

For malakh, the Hebrew word that is translated as ‘angel’, is a wide-ranging title. A malakh could be anything from an errand runner to an emperor’s emissary, or leader of a synagogue or one of the seven early churches of Revelation’s opening chapters. The writer of Revelation seems to have this breadth in mind: the unnamed “loud voice” in heaven that declaims the dragon’s downfall names the accused as “our comrades”, as offhandedly as though it were obvious—and that means us. Is part of the requirement for a malakh simply to keep showing up?

Nathanael’s story in the gospel suggests that this may be so. In the gospel he appears as the polar opposite of Jacob, “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit,” and the fig tree under which Jesus spies him is the traditional place of a rabbi or scholar in study. Though guileless, Nathanael is not snarkless: when Philip invites him to see Jesus in the verses preceding, he responds, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nevertheless, Nathanael shows up—and, perhaps to his own surprise, confesses Jesus as the Messiah.

Showing up is good. Showing up with awe and readiness is even better. How do I do that, Lord?

For April 28, 2013: 5 Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 11:1-18

This week’s reading from the book of Acts skips past Peter’s precedent-shattering visit to the Roman centurion and his family in Joppa to show what happens on his return to Jerusalem: he is grilled by the believers there, who have been taught from birth that they must keep away from Gentiles. How do we know who belongs to God?

The Response            Psalm 148

“Kings of the earth and all peoples… old and young together… let them praise the Name of the Lord.”

The Epistle            Revelation 21:1-6

Revelation this week closes with a vision of a redeemed world in which all the pain and grief that came into the world with Adam and Eve are no more. Strikingly, the holy city Jerusalem is not found far off in heaven: it comes as all our tears are wiped away by God’s own hand, and it comes to Earth.

The Gospel            John 13:31-35

“‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”

 

Further thoughts

In this weary world it is impossible to love without grieving, because it is impossible to love without loss. Because not even mothers (whatever their small children may believe) can be in more than one place at one time, we suffer separations large and small; lacking God’s-eye insight into each other, we endure misunderstanding and being misunderstood. We grieve when others don’t live up to our expectations for them or when we don’t or can’t live up to theirs; we give each other grief, in more senses than one; and of course we grieve both for those who die before we were ready for them to—which takes in practically everyone—and, as we begin to see it coming, for our own death.

On some level we all know this. It is part of what makes Jesus’ charge to love another so darned hard: Sooner or later—sooner and later—it has to hurt, and hurt deeply. The reading from Revelation paints for us a luminous picture of a world in which that pain is no more… but Lord knows we’re not there yet.

One suspects that the believers in Jerusalem all went through some of this grief on Peter’s return to Jerusalem. One imagines brash, openhearted Peter rushing back to share the exciting news about the astonishing new definition of “God’s people”, only to hit the brick wall of the Judeans’ opposition; one visualizes the Judeans, horrified by accounts of Peter’s apparent dereliction and determined to make things as right as they possibly could. This situation could easily have led straight to impasse—to the sort of schism that has recurred, regrettably, throughout the history of religions and philosophies. Instead, however, both sides contained their disappointment and grief long enough for Peter to explain well and for the Judeans to listen well. They loved each other not only that much, but that well.

And perhaps that is exactly where the new Jerusalem is: not there in heaven, but here, and here, and here, in the hearts that we care for and cherish and in the hearts we miss with tenderness, in the praises we raise together and the prayers that we pray with and for each other, and in the drying of each other’s tears.

For April 21, 2013: Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 9:36-43

The book of Acts shows us God making good on God’s promises to the early church. Jesus had assured the disciples that they would do even greater miracles than he had—and here we see it come to pass. Jesus had also told the disciples (though they did not reliably register it) that he is Messiah to more than the Jews; the fact that Tabitha seems to have gone by a Greek name suggests that she herself was living out this wider call.

The Response            Psalm 23

“You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me…”

The Second Reading            Revelation 7:9-17

Taken together with the raising of Tabitha, the vision of heaven in today’s reading from Revelation tells us many things: that in this life there is still sorrow and struggle, trial and loss, but that, if we persevere, we too may receive the bounty of life that Jesus has bought for us.

The Gospel            John 10:22-30

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

 

Further thoughts

Almost a week has elapsed since the finish line of the 117th running of the Boston Marathon was transformed in an instant from a place of celebration into a charnel house. Five people have died, including one of the suspects, a campus policeman at MIT, and an eight-year-old boy who was cheering his father on; 176 are injured; and life in the city of Boston came to a standstill and stayed that way during the manhunt for the other suspect.

In the aftermath, it can be difficult to believe in miracles, more difficult to pray for those who perpetrate such horrors, and harder still to confront the question of why a loving God would fail to step in to stop such atrocity.

Today’s readings give us very little help with the last question. In fact, the reading from Acts raises a further uncomfortable question: why choose Dorcas alone to raise from death, and not all the believers? Why spare a few but not all? This is the question that has troubled our elder brothers and sisters in God, the Jews, most painfully since the Holocaust. Some may say that the question demonstrates the Jews’ failure in faith, but I think they do well to ask it, and I think that, in this life, it has no truly satisfactory answer this side of the grave.

What I do know is that we follow Jesus, and that means, among other things, that we follow him into dying. But the promise of Revelation and of the reading from John is that dying is not the end. Whether we die peacefully at an advanced age or not, we still belong to God. And the works that we do in the name of Jesus—which include praying for and blessing even our enemies, even to the point of sharing with them the spread that Psalm 23 promises us—are the signs that we truly belong to God.

For April 7, 2013: 2 Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 5:27-32

During and after Jesus’ execution, the disciples had cringed and cowered as the authorities took steps to ensure no further trouble from Jesus’ followers. The book of Acts, however, recounts the astonishing lengths to which, with Jesus risen, the faithful would go to proclaim the Good News.

The Response            Psalm 118:14-29

The Second Reading            Revelation 1:4-8

The book of Revelation takes its name from the first word in it—the Greek word apokalypsis, which means ‘an uncovering or revealing’. In these opening verses, John greets us in the name of Jesus Christ, witness, liberator, ruler of kings, priest of priests, beginning and end.

The Gospel            John 20:19-31

“‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’”

 

Further thoughts

In the evening of the day that Jesus arose, Thomas expressed doubt. Feeling whipsawed after the exhilaration of following Jesus in the flesh followed by the fearsome and horrible events of the crucifixion, Thomas is understandably reluctant to entrust his heart again, until Jesus reveals himself, wounds and all. Notice that the believing disciples are nevertheless still hiding in the upper room in fear of the authorities: there may be less distance between them and “doubting Thomas”—and between them and us—than is apparent in our popular myths about who the disciples are that we are not.

The reading from Acts is set weeks, after Pentecost, after the coming of fire and wind and speaking in languages one had not known before. The once-timorous disciples are now publicly preaching and teaching the risen Christ and the forgiveness of sins. The authorities are distinctly unhappy with this: what is being said runs against their ideas of what is true worship, but it also puts them in a difficult position with respect to their Roman overlords, who disapprove of the sort of public unrest that the disciples’ statements are bound to foment. It seems, though, that no threat that the authorities can unleash is enough to shut these men up about Jesus and his love and forgiveness. Is there more distance between them and us than exists in our beliefs about ourselves as Christians?

The difference between us is not, I suspect, that the original disciples became sinless. That would make them other than human. But equally clearly they’re not shackled by what they do or have done wrong, and Acts is permeated with their support for and love of each other. Might this mean that forgiveness—the getting of it and the giving of it—by releasing each of us from the shackles of self, is among the most important ministries in which we can participate?

For Nov. 25, 2012: Christ the King/The Reign of Christ, Year B

The Reading            Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

In 165 BC, the very existence of Judaism was threatened. The Book of Daniel, written in response, contains an early example of apocalypse, or writing about the end times. Today’s reading tells a vision of a judgment scene presided over by a dazzling Ancient One—the Ancient of Days, in older translations. The court gives a grant of everlasting kingship and glory to someone like a human being. Listen for echoes of this in the second reading.

The Response            Psalm 93

The Epistle            Revelation 1:4b-8

The reading from Daniel related a vision of awesome judgment and the commissioning of one like a human being as eternal king. The book of Revelation, written at the end of the first century AD, is both a letter and another apocalypse. Today’s reading is from the beginning of the book; it sounds a theme like that in Daniel, but now the “one like a human being” is named—as Jesus Christ who loves us.

The Gospel            John 18:33-37

 

Further thoughts

On Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate both the end of the Pentecost season and the dominion of Jesus Christ over (as the book of Daniel puts it) “all peoples, nations, and languages”: this formulaic phrase is clearly intended to include absolutely everybody, whether by association, birth, or culture.  The book of Daniel foresees one like a human being to whom this dominion—this power—is given; we Christians naturally assume that Jesus the Son of Man is intended. The reading from Revelation names the one who comes in the clouds as Jesus but otherwise paints a similar picture: Jesus is coming in glory and judgment and, crucially, power. Revelation specifies that on his account all the tribes will wail, and that makes sense given what we think we know of the way power works.

In the gospel, however, the picture is different. Jesus who was and is and is to come stands before the local representative of the great Roman Empire. Pilate, like the rest of us, knows what powerlessness looks like and he knows what power looks like—but Jesus looks like… well, Jesus: if an ordinary man under accusation, then remarkably unshaken before the Roman who can quite easily order him crucified; if a king, then disturbingly unconcerned with the familiar trappings and prerogatives of power.

So just what kind of king is this, anyway?

The kind of king who attends to the despised and broken-hearted. The kind of king who performs astonishing healings and forbids the word to spread. The kind of king who declines to be stampeded by society into condemning obviously guilty women. The kind of king who washes his inferiors’ feet. The kind of king who undertakes to die to save the very people who are out to kill him and yet whom not even death can vanquish.

And if Jesus so breaks the mold when it comes to kingship, what must it mean for our place in his kingdom that he calls us not subjects but brothers and sisters and partners in bringing God’s love to the world?

For Nov. 4, 2012: All Saints’ Day, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 25:6-9

Today’s reading from the book of Isaiah is familiar from Easter, when we recall God’s people rejoicing in their liberation from exile. It is equally appropriate for our commemoration of All Saints, when we who yet live remember those we love who have died and weep with those who mourn.

 

The Response            Psalm 24

 

The Epistle            Revelation 21:1-6a

Isaiah’s theme of God coming to earth to liberate us mortals from death and sorrow is picked up in the astonishing book of Revelation: a holy new Jerusalem comes down from heaven, in which God the First and Last will come to live among us mortals and to wipe away all the tears and disgraces and griefs of the faithful.

The Gospel            John 11:32-44

 

Further thoughts

All Saints’ Day is a feast day of the Church. That it should be is clear from the Old Testament and Epistle readings. God Almighty comes in glory to throw a bash that features all the best of what Earth has provided, only more so: the sort of food in which one savors the range and richness of both familiar both the very best of the familiar and the very most attractive of the exotic (and who knew lutefisk could taste good?); the sort of drink on which, whatever one’s consump­tion, one grows merry but not unseemly; the sort of company with whom one can talk past three in the morning, no one is too old or too young, and Great-aunt Hortense’s old bitter jokes about Great-great-Uncle Leo are finally suffused with love and frankly hilarious because the old goat’s right there and laughing harder than anyone else; and the Honoree in Chief with the pierced palms, who is also the Host in one’s choice of senses, fills one with the desire simultaneously to prostrate oneself before him and to curl up in his lap like a cosseted kitten… This is, in short, the party to end all parties, the very Alpha and Omega of homecomings and home-beings.

There is a catch—no, not that this party is too good to be true, because my version can’t be true enough to be good enough. The catch is what has to have happened to get us all there. One must have been the product of a coupling that may as well have been spurred by violence as by love; one must have lost Mom and Dad or been lost to them, or sometimes both; if born, one has been disappointed by others, been a disappointment to others, lost and been lost by others, and been a mighty source of grief to oneself, in ways that range across the catalogue of human sloth, lust, envy, wrath, gluttony, avarice, and pride; and sooner or later one must have undergone the bizarre blend of terror and indignity that is  death—for to be human is to die.

Jesus is human. At the tomb of Lazarus he weeps, which looks like what we mortals do, but the description of him as deeply disturbed has puzzled me. Then the wife of a pastor I know told me that Andy begins his funeral sermons with the exclamation, “I hate death!” I think Andy speaks God’s mind here: death is not merely awful but deeply, irremediably wrong. Yet Jesus by choice endures and even swallows up death to get us into the banquet.

To be human is indeed to die and to weep. We Christians have faith that our tears will be dried in the Kingdom, and meanwhile we dab at our own tears with the faith that we clutch like a handkerchief. What if we bore our love into the world as a handkerchief here and now for the tears of all the souls around us?


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