ALL SAINTS DAY 2011
This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
11Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, ‘Come and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample over the holy city for forty-two months. 3And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days, wearing sackcloth.’
4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. 6They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.
7 When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; 10and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth.
11 But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified. 12Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here!’ And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them. 13At that moment there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
14 The second woe has passed. The third woe is coming very soon.
15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.’
16 Then the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshipped God, 17singing,
‘We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty,
who are and who were,
for you have taken your great power
and begun to reign.
18 The nations raged,
but your wrath has come,
and the time for judging the dead,
for rewarding your servants, the prophets
and saints and all who fear your name,
both small and great,
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.’
19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
This chapter gives the reader a) a vision of the Temple (the place where God dwells), which may be seen as the community of believers, or the individual believer, or indeed as Jesus Christ. Although the outer temple may be damaged, the inner temple will be kept safe by God;
b) The vision of the two witnesses/ prophets who are like fruitful trees or lamp-stands on the earth. They represent the double aspect of the believing community, Jews and Gentiles, Peter and Paul, declaring God’s truth to an antagonistic world. Finally they are apparently conquered and killed by the Beast who stands for ruthless worldly power (Rome). This is a prophecy that the church will be persecuted for its truth-telling ministry. The bodies lying on the streets of the great city are a vivid picture of the apparent triumph of evil power, which is overturned by the resurrection of the witnesses and the downfall of much of the great city. Again the author tells us that the costly witness of God’s community will bring about the destruction of the unjust city.
c) The final trumpet, which brings to an end the first series of visions, takes the reader forward to the moment of God’s victory and the supreme revelation of his being to all peoples. The hymn of the elders, who represent all God’s servants, praises his justice and in particular, “the destruction of those who destroy the earth.” How God will do this is not made clear, but it proclaimed with assurance.
These are great visions for All Saints Day giving a vision of the community in which God dwells on earth; its vocation of truth-telling in the world; its suffering at the hands of evil power; and its vindication by God. This is the community which recapitulates the story of Jesus. All people, both within the church and outside it, are asked throughout their lives whether they belong to this community or not.
44 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
47 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ 52And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’
God’s rule of one’s own life and of the lives of others in the world, is depicted in these brief parables as overwhelmingly precious but not recognised as such by everyone. The images of the finder of treasure and the buyer of pearls, point to the passion with which God’s rule is recognised and “possessed”. The motive of the “finders” is almost sinful: the desire to possess something valuable; yet Jesus uses it to depict the joyful desire of the true disciple to “keep” God’s way. The recognition of the value and beauty of God’s way is a characteristic of the “saints” I’ve known in my life.
The parable of the net is a sardonic reminder that not all those “caught in the net”i.e. not all members of the visible community of saints, are committed to God’s rule, and that a bit of the sorting out familiar to fishermen will be necessary some day. Indeed it can happen any time as the current conscientious resignations from the staff of St. Paul’s Cathedral demonstrate.
Greetings, on this day, to fellow “saints” everywhere (whether of my faith or not). My favourite hymn ends thus:
“a feeble saint shall win the day/ though death and hell obstruct the way”
I hope so.