5th Sunday of Easter – C – 2019
Forty Martyrs'; St Bede's
The Book of Revelation is a very complex piece of writing; full of colour and noise, alarm and threat, and with the choirs of heaven ever singing God's praise in the background, allowing us to know that whatever horrors are crushing the world, its lands, seas and rivers, whatever destruction is causing cities to fall and the cosmos shake in the starry heavens, God is in control, and God is bringing God's purpose to a Godly conclusion.
Unfortunately the people who compiled the Lectionary and choose that we should have six readings from the Book of the Apocalypse in this Easter Season of Year C of the Cycle, give us none of the drama, the cataclysmic explosions of terror, the horror of the sheer force of evil in many forms. What we get is “John of Patmos' Greatest Hits”. Today and for the next two weeks we get the pleasant uplifting passages which are often chosen for a Requiem Mass. They are taken from the final chapters of the Book when all is being resolved and 'a new heaven and a new earth' are appearing; and all the sea – a source of chaos, where monsters lurk – has gone. The New Jerusalem comes down from heaven, heralding a new world order, where God's reign is absolute in its benevolent beauty.
But where are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, bringing, at God's command, war and civil strife, famine and disease and death, with the broad and threatening jaws of Hades stretched wide in their wake? Where are the signs in the heavens as the seven trumpets blow, or the disasters which recoil as the bowls of destruction are poured out? The choice of passages we have been given renders this richly colourful kaleidoscopic work anaemic.
We cannot appreciate God's victory unless we have a sense of the extent of the evil which ever threatens human destruction. We cannot appreciate the call, made to us, to patient endurance and faithful witness, unless we have experienced the power of evil in its terrifying horror, unless we have resisted the lure of a comfortable and pleasant life which is built on the oppression of the poor, the weak, the marginalised and the voiceless., unless we have made the choice to stand with God's holy people in resistance to all the forces of negativity and selfishness that control so much in the ways of the world.
These are the evils which John remorselessly attacks, and which are vanquished by the love of God and the sacrifice of the Lamb. Without the darkness, this work of major, contemporary relevance has been emasculated.
There is great evil in the world. Our fellow Christians are now the most persecuted group in the world. There expulsion from the Middle East is recognised as a form of genocide. Wars and the fear of war is ever present in many places. We, in the affluent West, are destroying the planet, with a thoughtless greed which is matched only by our mindless complacency. And on a personal level, few of us are unfamiliar with the dread of grave illness, the threat of redundancy, or the heart-break of marriage break-down.
The lectionary compiler no doubt wanted to evoke the joy of the Resurrection and the victory of the Lamb in his selection of texts but the result is, in the context of the Book, a Resurrection with no suffering and death. Yet there can be no new life without the death of the old. Jesus when he appeared to the disciples was transformed, so that even those who knew him well did not recognise him at once. But the Risen Lord bore the marks of the crucifixion in hands and feet and side. And he will carry them to eternity.
The Book of Revelation is a challenging work, but a comforting one. Evil is powerful, but the love of God revealed in Christ is far stronger. Those who are saved are a multitude, too many to be counted from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Tears are wiped away, and there is no more death, no more mourning no more sadness. The world of the past, with all its crippling and destructive evils is gone. We live for ever in the presence of God-with-us in the new creation.