6th SUNDAY OF EASTER, -C- May 22, 2022

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Ps 67;
Revelation 21: 10-14, 22-23; John 14: 23-29

by Jude Siciliano, OP

PRE-NOTE: I recommend an essay by Lyle May, about daily life on Raleigh, North Carolina’s Death Row. https://www.preacherexchange.com/justicepreaching.htm

Dear Preachers:

We are near the end of the Book of Revelation. Next week we will hear its closing verses. Over these weeks John, the author, has been speaking to us from his place of exile on the island of Patmos. He was there because he had refused to bow before Rome and call Caesar "Lord." So he was banished. His sister and brother Christians, whom he left behind, were also being persecuted (1:9).

Naturally questions had arisen: Why would God allow such good people to suffer? Why do evil people prosper? Who will have the final victory; God, or God’s opponents? John wrote Revelation to help respond to such faith-challenging questions. These are timeless questions, aren’t they? They are the questions the people of Ukraine could well ask. They are also the questions of compassionate people around the world as we watch in horror the devastation the war has wrought on so many innocents.

Revelation shows John’s attempt to comfort those persecuted churches. It is filled with coded clues the churches would understand, but their persecutors would not. Writing to the afflicted churches John encourages them to persevere and have hope. Persecution still threatens Christians in parts of the world today and so Revelation may also offer them comfort and hope. It has an encouraging word to our modern church as well, as we suffer internal wounds from the pain and humiliations caused by the scandals we are enduring in many dioceses throughout the world. Reflecting on Revelation can also strengthen our resolve as we face unbelief and indifference from our surrounding world.

Revelation is an "apocalyptic" piece of literature. Apocalypse means "unveiling" and so it is an attempt to "unveil" the meaning of history for those going through terrible and painful times. What Revelation is not, is what fundamentalists try to make of it – a precise prediction of future cataclysmic events. Remember, Jesus told us that we cannot precise exact dates and times for God’s intervention in world history (Mark 13:32).

The Book of Revelation began at God’s throne in heaven (1:12 ff) – where human history began and will end. John narrates the visions he had of the struggle between good and evil. In the book’s coded way he makes allusions to Rome ("the Beast") and Caesar (chapters 13-17). He depicts them as God’s enemies – as are all earthly powers that attempt to replace God’s ways with their own. "The Beast" is any power that yields to evil; it is God’s enemy in each generation and has many minions who say, "yes" to its allure.

Remember, Revelation is an "unveiling." It helps us see our past and present sufferings through the eyes of faith – faith in God’s sustaining goodness, love and power. Revelation is also about the future; not in exact predictions, but with assurances. John reminds us that, while we have no control over the future, God does.

In today’s selection from Revelation the story is coming to an end and its message of hope is emphasized. As we heard last week, God will wipe away our tears and banish death. There will be no more mourning and all things will be made new. Today we are given the vision of God and the Lamb permanently dwelling in our midst–a central tenet of our incarnational faith. (A theme also found in Hebrews 11-10.) In the heavenly Jerusalem, God will consummate what God has begun and there we will be in full communion with our God and one another. A new heaven and a new earth will appear and the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven, as Ezekiel envisioned (40:2). In that city God will live with us and comfort all those who suffer. As John will say in a later verse, "Night will be no more..." (22:5).

The Lamb, who enfleshed God’s love for us and shed his blood on the cross, will also be in the New Jerusalem. We could not save ourselves from sin; nor could we overcome evil in the world. But what we could not accomplish on our own, God has done for us. We are the recipients of God’s grace. God has triumphed and taken away our sin.

The period of great trial and tribulation was not unique to John’s time, it continues to this day. Yet he ends his "unveiling" with a hope-engendering vision of what will be ours someday. We are not being asked to interpret all the symbols in Revelation. That would make for interesting speculation in times of leisure. But implied in the ending of this visionary book are questions put to us at this Eucharist. Do we believe the ending of this story: that through God, good will conquer evil? Can we maintain our hope in God, even when the current evidence of that coming triumph is bleak? Revelation is also an invitation to respond to what we have heard and received in our lives. In Jesus Christ we have personal experience of God’s self-sacrificial love. Will our lives be another kind of "unveiling": will they witness to others, by our demeanor, words and actions, the hope we have in our gracious God?

John is inviting us to turn away from the false values and powers of the world and turn instead to the new Holy City where God dwells. Trusting in his vision and its completion someday, why would we choose anything, or anyone else? John has parted the veil for us and we can look upon the holy of holies with God as its center – the center of our own lives as well.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: