New Reality

Read Revelation 21:1-5

Today in the Western church, we mark this day as a festival day, Sts. Peter and Paul Festival Day. Christians remember two pillars of the early Church. Saint Peter was the apostle which Jesus said the church would be built upon. Saint Paul provided writings which helped the church discover what it meant to live into being the church. Both of these early church leaders looked toward the day when the Kingdom would exist in fullness in the world.

The writer of John’s revelation gives us a glimpse of the scene when Peter and Paul’s expectations come to fruition. The writer speaks of “a new heaven and a new earth.” This is not a redesign of our current temporal existence but instead it is a perfection of everything in and around creation. The imperfect, which came into existence when humanity unlocked sin in the world, is transformed by the full presence of God. The removal of the sea denotes the end of chaos which sin has unleashed on the world. No longer will suffering be a part of creation. A new, perfect way of existing without death is now the reality of the world.

Just as Peter, Paul, and all believers past and present, we eagerly anticipate this perfected reality. We await God dwelling with all of creation absent of any barriers. Our hope resides in the knowledge that in God’s perfect timing this new way of being will be fully experienced.

Abide

Read Revelation 3:20 

One of my favorite older hymns is Abide With Me. I was not introduced to this hymn in church but instead in my high school marching band. Our band director chose an arrangement of this hymn to be one of the songs in our show one fall. The melody was always soothing to me. Later I would locate the hymn in my church’s hymnal and would gain a deeper love of it when I read the words of the lyrics.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide

The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day

Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away

Change and decay in all around I see

O Thou who changest not, abide with me

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness

Where is death’s sting?

Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, if Thou abide with me

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies

Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee

In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me

Abide with me, abide with me

Abide With Me, Audrey Assad

The verse from Revelation listed above speaks of abiding with Christ. The verse comes in the midst of John’s vision at the point that letters are being shared with the seven churches. Toward the end of the letter to the Church in Laodicea we locate this verse. The invitation for us to abide, or spend time, with the Lord is put forward here. We are told that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, waiting for us to open the door so he can join us, break bread with us, and sit with us.

There is comfort and calm when one considers the possibility of abiding with Christ. The words of the hymn affirm this assurance and comfort. The promise shared in the verse from Revelation makes this a real possibility. Unlocking the possibility is in our hands. The Lord stands and waits after knocking on our heart’s door. We must hear his knock and voice. Then we must open the door and take the time to sit with the Lord.

Before the Throne

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
17 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 7:9-17 (NIV)

Recently we have been unable to gather in groups of any significant size. The pandemic caused a need for social distancing which prohibited large gatherings such as conventions, festivals, fine arts productions, sporting events and even worship services from happening. As the vaccinations continue, we are starting to see a return of some of these events and gathering of larger groups of people. Many of us can remember prior to the pandemic being a part of events where people from all over the nation and/or the world were in attendance. There exists a sense of awe when one witnesses this type of event. One day these events will occur again.

Our reading today speaks of such a gathering. We are presented with a vision of the throne room of God. There is a large group of people in white robes standing in front of the throne. This group is so large that it cannot be counted. The people moved palm branches and cried out praises to God and the Lamb. The angels around the throne sang praises to God. One of the elders explains that these people are the ones who came through tribulation and washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. These people have come from every nation and tribe throughout the world.

A feeling of great awe overcomes a person when picturing this gathering which will take place. The group standing before God will eclipse even the largest group imagined on earth. Knowing that people from every background and location we can define will be part of the composition of this group is mind boggling. All are united in the name and grace of God. All have been made clean of sin and made whole by the blood of the Lamb. Our cries of praise joined with the song of the angels will make a sound which will shake all creation.

Imagine

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

king of kings and lord of lords.

Revelation 19:11-16 (NIV)

Thunderstorms have always intrigued me. Throughout my childhood I accumulated many memories of thunderstorms rolling through our small, Midwestern farm community. We had an empty lot next to our house where Dad would often stand and watch the storm until it started raining too much. I was always glad when I could sneak away from Mom long enough to join Dad in the empty lot. If we had to retreat to the house, we would stand in the living room so we could watch through the large picture window. Today I still enjoy thunderstorms but one of our dogs is petrified of them so I spend my time comforting him. Thunderstorms display such power and strength.

The passage which we read today cornes from an often misunderstood and misused book of the Bible. The book is a recounting of a vision or dream. Imagery from this vision is intended to communicate thoughts and ideas regarding God, Christ, angels, and people. The verses lifted to us here contain a vision of Christ in heaven. We see Christ as royalty. The image is one of power, strength, and authority. This is communicated by describing Christ as a royal, military figure because in the experiences of the writer, such a figure had those attributes.

Reading this passage today has caused me to reflect upon what image I may see when I encounter Christ. I can only imagine. What about you?

Reflect on that question as you watch this video and listen to the song.

Anticipated City

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Revelation 21:22-27 (NIV)

Traveling is an enjoyable pastime of mine. I enjoy going to new cities and locations. Exploring a city where I have not previously been is exciting. There have been many times.in which I have discovered amazing aspects unknown to me. Also, since I enjoy history, I am happy when I encounter historical sites and/or learn the history of the location. Anticipating a trip, and what I may discover, fills me with great joy.

Today in our passage, we are given a glimpse of the anticipated Holy City. In John’s vision, he tells us about the city. This city has the Lord as its temple and light. The gates are never shut because there is nothing to fear. People of the nations will bring the honor and glory of the earth into the city. No one, on nothing, deemed impure by the Lord will be allowed into the city. This is John’s vision, not because he has been there but through the power of the Spirit he has been able to see this anticipated city.

Like John did so many years ago, we anticipate our arrival to the Holy City. We desire a place where fear does not exist any longer. Fear is banished because the Lord is the light which dispels the dark aspects of life that cause fear. We expect such glory and honor to be present that we anticipate being prompted to worship and praise the Lord. Nothing will hinder our entrance into this great city where the welcome sign is always on. This is a trip which I eagerly await, why not accompany me.

Imagery

John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits[a] before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”[b]
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”[c]
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,[d] dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels[e] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Revelation 1:4-20 (NIV)

The city in which I currently live is the home of some amazing art museums. I have enjoyed going to two of them so far, one containing American art and the other one containing art from world renown artists including Monet and Picasso. I enjoy viewing the work, imaging what the artist is trying to communicate, and reading the information on the card next to the piece. Imagery is an amazing way to communicate a message. I struggle with abstract art because it is difficult for me to find the message in the imagery. 

Our passage today comes from a book of the Bible which can be confusing to some readers. The writing here is filled with imagery because it comes from a vision. The intent is to communicate a message, a telling of a story. Today we read about the very beginning of the vision, John, the one who is having the vision, finds himself in the heavenly throne room of God. He hears praises being sung, declarations of the wholeness of God made, and sees seven golden lampstands. Among these lampstands is a human whose description seems to indicate he is Jesus. John is told to write down all that he sees and hears so it may be shared with the churches. At the sight of the man, John falls to the ground because he realizes he is in a holy place before the Lord. The Lord touches John’s shoulder with the hand containing seven stars and tells him to not be afraid. Continuing, he explains the stars are the angels of the churches and the lampstands are the churches. The imagery here is magnificent. The use of the number seven in the Bible is meant to represent perfection and wholeness. Having the Lord stand among the lampstands communicates that the Lord is among the churches. The lampstands remind us that the role of the churches is to bring light to the world. The stars provide the reminder that there are messengers from God in the churches. As a whole, we are given a set of messages through the imagery of John’s vision.

Receiving a message through imagery is great but more important is what we do with that message. When an artist uses imagery to communicate a message, the intention may be to remind us of the beauty of creation, or it may be to make us aware of the plight of certain people, or it may be to prompt us to remember an historical event. If this message is received by us and we are moved to action or better educated, then the imagery works. In the words of this section of Revelation, we are reminded to be lights to the world, that the Lord is in our midst, and to listen to the messengers of God.

What are you going to do with this?

Describe the Devil

Recently I was watching the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” which is one of my favorite movies. During one scene in the movie, Ulysses Everett McGill, who is played by George Clooney, gives a description of the devil. Ulysses responds to a question by Pete, played by John Turturro:

Well, there are all manner of lesser imps and demons, Pete, but the great Satan hisself is red and scaly with a bifurcated tail, and he carries a hay fork.

Ulysses Evertt McGill

Clooney’s character gives a description that is part of folklore and often presented in art. The problem is that nowhere in the Bible does such a description exists. The only comparable passage where the image could have been generated from is found in Revelation 12.

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.

Revelation 12:3

Caution must be used here since we know that the book of Revelation is attributed to a man whose name is listed as John and at the start of the book it indicates that this is a vision. This would mean that a lot of imagery is used in this portion of Scripture so a literal interpretation is very unwise.

Another perception of the devil is that it is a fallen angel. This concept can be attributed first to the Book of Enoch which presents the idea there are fallen angels. While the Book of Enoch was rejected by both Judaism and Christianity in the early centuries, the idea that fallen angels exist did not go away. Add to this two passages from the Gospels, first Luke 10:18 where Jesus is speaking and says, “He replied ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.'” Along with Matthew 25:41 which is part of Jesus explaining the separation of sheep and goats on judgment day, “Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”. All these combine to create a description of the devil as a fallen angel and the leader of the other fallen angels.

The imagery and perceptions from this imagery has led to a lot of confusion concerning the devil. Confusion with a limit of certainty. Much like the difficulty of describing God, creating a description of the devil, Satan, Lucifer, or any other name assigned is fraught with difficulty. There are only fragments of insight contained in Scripture. Yet I am willing to provide a little speculation here.

The image which is the strongest for me is that of a tempter. We find this presented in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John. In the Gospel accounts of Jesus being tempted by Satan, we see that a figure comes to Jesus and attempts to take him off his planned ministry course by the trappings of success as described by humans. Three different attempts are recorded, and Jesus successfully avoids the temptations of humanity’s definition of success. The image of the tempter also occurs at the start of the Bible in Genesis 3. Although this account does not state it is Satan tempting Eve but instead says it is a serpent which has come to be thought of as Satan.

I would argue that this “tempter” is not really a being at all. Instead, I believe that the temptation to get off course is from within our very selves. This is the aspect of our humanness which we allow to lead us to make unhealthy decisions. Decisions which have a negative impact on our lives and the lives of all around us. It is the part of us which feels that our ways are better than the ones God presents before us. This is the aspect of our free will which creates negative instead of positive.

This leads me to state that I believe a description of the devil is only obtainable in imagery. This imagery is our attempt to describe the aspect of our thoughts which led us to be tempted to act irresponsibly or in a manner counter to God’s nature.