On Sunday before my sermon we played a version of John the Revelator by Blind Willie Johnston, composed in 1930. I'd hoped to show you the video below if the computer had not been on the blink.
We heard the refrain and only three of the many verses, but they are telling.
We hear about Adam in the garden, who, symbolic of all humanity, brings sin into the world. He was found, naked and ashamed.
We hear about the disciples who Jesus called aside in his hour of need, to watch and pray. Yet their eyes drooped they could not stay awake.
We hear about the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the women, Jesus who informed them of his plans to meet the disciples in Galilee. These three verses are infused with the human condition of shame, sloth and fear. Let us call this human condition sin.
We need the Revelation of John because John, the seer, the prophet, the 'revelator' sees the human condition so well. The four horsemen of the apocalypse are not some future dystopian fantasy, they roam the world right now. Have we not frequently seen on the earth the riders of military conquest, internal strife, pestilence and death? Revelation strikes a chord whichever decade it lands in. Revelation speaks a subversive message about the mis-use of human power in the world, whether it be wielded by Caesar, Hitler, Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsenaro or Kim Jong Un. Babylon can represent Rome, Beijing or Washington.
Revelation speaks a subversive message of future hope to the faithful oppressed who do not possess human power or prestige, only the power of the cross, and the power of faithful endurance, which is as foolishness to the elite of the empire.
This week we watched the sick irony of the American president employing the violence of rubber bullets and flash grenades to clear a path through a peaceful protest so he could stage a 'photo op' in front of St. Johns Church across from the White House. He held a Bible aloft (upside down). Who knows why, perhaps to identify with the religious right of America? The effect was sacrilegious, and drew sharp criticism from the priest of the parish and the bishop. This seems like anti-Christ with a small 'a'. I think you have to be a wee bit smarter to get a capital A. The red horse of racial and economic strife has been let loose in America amid the Covid pandemic and mass unemployment, and the president stokes the fire, lacking the wit or the words for reconciliation. Retired defense secretary Gen. Mattis said; “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us,” Yet humble acts of reconciliation and unity pop up amid the chaos. Signs of hope.
We are distracted by the horror of the USA for a time, but let us look to our own backyard lest we get too smug. We have our own issues and the churches need to have 'ears to hear'. Revelation speaks the same message of future hope in Christ that was spoken in Asia Minor in the late first century. We can receive it and live faithfully in our own community and time, looking for ways to be the bringers of love, unity, hospitality and reconciliation.