s022e03 Lockleys Good Friday 2003 18/4/03
"O Lamb ...slain" Rev 5.12
Normally I preach on the readings set for the particular service, but today I have decided to preach on the book of the Revelation to St John the Divine. My excuse for doing this is that the Canticle, A Song to the Lamb, Revelation 4.11,5:9b-10 is set to be used each Friday, and so is part of our liturgy today.
I guess I've never felt able to seriously look at Revelation. Part of this is diffidence, it seems an unworldly book. It is something that *religious* people pour over to find hidden meanings, a book unrelated to human existence, a book that can lead people into unhealthy speculation. Like most apocalyptic literature it is a book that can divide people into those who are *initiated* into the secret meanings contained therein - and those who aren't. So it can be used as a badge for spiritual snobbery, and so something I would see as quite alien to the mission and purpose of Jesus. This is one of the reasons I react against those who talk about "spirituality" and "mysticism".
Some people say that the book is about the end of the world, the parousia, and a description of the sequence of events that will happen when God will draw all things to an end. In this time of conflict in the middle east, people may look at this book to find if perhaps there is a correlation between the events in the world and the words therein. The trouble is that the words are so general that this exercise is so invariably *successful* to make any *real time* conclusion meaningless.
Others say that what is being described here is the persecution of the early Church and it contains coded messages to remain faithful. In this sense it is a literary descendent of the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament - a time when the ancient people of God were struggling under foreign occupation.
Others see the words as a reworking of lots of passages from scripture, primarily about the worship of God in heaven.
However I want to canvass another theory.
If we look at the rest of the New Testament, we have the accounts of Jesus' life, death and resurrection in the gospel accounts. In the epistles we have various people's practical advice about living the Christian life. If we stop there we are left somewhat in limbo, with the sole focus being on the extension of the kingdom in the hands of a small community of the faithful, albeit being empowered by the Holy Spirit. The actions of God through Jesus, so abundantly imminent in the incarnation are essentially gone, withdrawn into heaven at the Ascension. Humanity is left with an enigmatic Spirit, impossible to *pin down*, and an enthusiastic, if often embattled, group of followers.
Christianity becomes a personal thing as we exercise our devotion towards God, our acts of charity towards our neighbours and our evangelical enthusiasm. Christianity has nothing immediately relevant to say as to what happens on the global stage - nothing to suggest that God is still active.
The reality is, and indeed the key to understanding the book of Revelation, is to realise that Jesus was crucified by the religious authorities of his day. There is a battle as Jesus and the religious authorities clash, which has got nothing to do with your or my prayer life, our acts of charity or lack thereof or our evangelical fervour or lack thereof. The crucifixion was a global event, and that battle is a continuing one.
And we find that battle continuing as we examine again why the religious authorities killed Jesus. And as I have come to realise the importance of this again &endash; the religious authorities killed Jesus because he accepted the offerings of people other than themselves.
And so the battle still rages, not between Jews and Christians or between Jews and Moslems, or between Christians and everyone else (!!!) but between those who would seek to restrict the blessing of God to a holy huddle of whatever persuasion (including, Christianity, no less than any other religion) and those who see the actions of God in lots of places.
And this battle rages still for it lies behind much of our human conflicts to this day. There are people who say that most conflicts are started by religion, and humanity would be well without religion completely. I expect that this is a vain hope. The first recorded murder in the Bible was because one brother perceived that his offering to God was less accepted than his brother's. I suspect that the answer to the question whether this perception was true is vital for how we interpret the whole of the rest of scripture. I am sure that we are all praying for the people of Iraq - that the fall of the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein doesn't precipitate violence between the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunnites, as the fall of the communist regime in the former Yugoslavia precipitated conflict between the various religious communities there. It does make me wonder if totalitarian regimes were necessary to keep people of faith from killing one another!!!
We need to see and appreciate where the source of antagonism lies and it lies with those whose supposed positions of privilege are challenged by the all encompassing love of God for all people. It is not an irrelevant fact that Cain was the first-born son who was put out that God regarded the offering of his younger sibling at all. The source of the antagonism comes from those who want God to accept their offerings and despise the offerings of others.
I have recently seen that the statement that God is the creator of the whole universe, encompasses the statement that God created every human being. And humanity, as the pinnacle of creation is therefore by definition not created hierarchically. Humanity, as a whole is the pinnacle of creation. There are no lesser human beings or greater &endash; all are loved equally by God.
And so the primary weapon in this battle is the Cross and resurrection, or to use the allusion the book of Revelation so frequently employs, the blood of the Lamb. So the book of Revelation actually describes life as we know it, for the battle between those who see God as excluding and those who see God as including is as current as it was in the time of Jesus. And the weapon we use is used not to kill all those who think differently, just as the former President of the United States. Jimmy Carter rightly observes &endash; we will not learn to live in peace by killing one another's children. The weapon we use, such as it is, is the cross and resurrection - if nothing else the realisation that exclusivism means we crucify the Son of God anew.
And the book of Revelation also alerts us to the fact that the warfare we wage is not against people, but against doctrines like "Ayrianism", "White Supremacy", anything that suggests any individual or group has an exclusive claim to truth over others - including people who may call themselves Anglicans. Far from Christianity having little or no "global dimension" &endash; in fact that dimension is at the core of what our faith is all about.
And indeed I would not be much interested in worshipping a God who was concerned about my sex life, whether I engaged in dancing, the occasional flutter on the gee-gees, or enjoyed a glass or three of red wine &endash; for medicinal purposes, of course :-). Of course if any of these things were done to the detriment of someone else or to our own health, then God would be concerned. We are given choices in many aspects of our lives, but we are not given a choice when it comes to looking down on other people, particularly if in doing so we invoke the name of God.
The other revelation, for me, is that this puts some flesh on the theological concept of "realised eschatology". This is a big phrase - I sometimes suspect it is deliberately so to confuse the less than theologically literate. This means simply that something definitive has happened in Jesus. Everything - from now on is a "fait accomplis" - an accomplished fact.
And it is true. God is a God who includes not excludes. God always was a God who includes; in this sense nothing has changed. But in Jesus, the one crucified for sitting down and eating with others, the battle lines are drawn - but even as they are drawn they are also simultaneously won. There is no way that God can cease to be as inclusive as the model that Jesus shows us.
In this sense the victory is won in the crucifixion (not the resurrection particularly), because in the cross it becomes abundantly clear what the logical outcome the idol who excludes will always try (ever unsuccessfully) to do to the concept of a God who includes. The idol will seek to crucify the God who includes. That attempt will always be unsuccessful, resurrection is assured, because God's will to include all will never be thwarted.
The "victory" is won, indeed it was won right at the beginning of creation, for God was never any different from this.
When one looks at the bible, both the Old Testament and the New, in this light, it becomes clear that the paradigm of the conflict between exclusivism and inclusivism runs right throughout the pages. This is why people can quite conscientiously read the Bible and come to quite opposite conclusions about who God is and how we are to relate to others and think that *they* are *right*. And we too play our part in the battle as we see modern examples of exclusivism - Bp Spong calls it imperialism - for what it is - a denial of the gospel.
And victory seen in these terms also informs those words of Jesus: "Blessed are the poor - theirs is the kingdom of heaven". Blessed are they who have nothing with which to buy their way into heaven, for they can't spend what they haven't got for that which is actually offered freely to all.
If you will excuse the snippet of nostalgia, it was on the 14th of August 1961 when I was enormously privileged to sing a solo during the communion on the occasion of the final service of the Rector prior to him leaving to go to another parish. I sang the hymn "Once, only once, and once for all, his precious life he gave". It was probably chosen because I was a much less accomplished singer than my two older brothers and the tune "Albano" was not complicated :-) So these words have a particular significance for me, and they were the catch-cry of the reformation, against the teaching that each mass was a repeat of Calvary. I now have come to realise that for some people - coming and receiving the sacrament at the altar rail can feel like Calvary realised afresh for them. Lovely as the words of the hymn are, the reality is that the battle that Calvary engages is continuing, as the powers and authorities that be, continue to suggest we have to live up to some religious, doctrinal, ethical or devotional standard before we are acceptable.
This only attempts to crucify Jesus again and silence the good news that God includes all.
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