This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Oldest Auschwitz sufferer dies at 108 years
The Multitude from Every Nation
9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.10They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God,12singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’14I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
The preceding vision (see Bible Blog 863) gave the reader an image of the judgement on evildoers postponed by God while the process of gathering God’s servants took place. Here we see another image of those servants. On earth they are going through “the great ordeal” which may be a Roman persecution or maybe just the perennial poverty and injustice faced by conquered peoples in any world empire at any time. In heaven however they are sharing in the worship of God whose rule brings salvation (complete rescue) and who is worthy, along with the Lamb who shares the divine throne, of all praise. But they are doing in heaven precisely what they were doing on earth: recognising the rule of God over every worldly rule and sharing in the suffering of the Lamb. The act of washing their robes in the blood of the Lamb is their readiness for sacrificial service on earth. But their clothes are the white robes of victory rather than the bloody clothes of battle; their sacrifice is not in vain, for by it they share in the suffering and victory of the Lamb, who is at the centre of the throne because he/she is the loving means by which God conquers evil.
The great poetry of verses 15-17 spells out the nature of salvation:
1. Closeness to God who shelters them from all harm
2. Access to the means of abundant life under the guidance of the Lamb
3. Complete consolation for all suffering
The majesty and tenderness of this vision makes it one of the very greatest of biblical utterances, especially in the daring by which it pictures the Almighty One as a mother wiping the tears from her children’s eyes.
Yes, this is an image of something beyond human understanding, the eschatological ( “beyond time and space) affirmation of the lives of God’s servants, but it also expresses the inner reality of what is happening in their worldly lives: already by their courage and sacrifice they share here and now in the divine victory.
I believe what this passage tells me. In my life (I’m 70 now) I’ve seen people pour out their lives for the good of others, in private, public and political spheres, people whose memory I hold in honour. Many of them suffered, some of them most terribly, in the course of their work for the health, justice, peace and fruitfulness of their fellow creatures; and many of their lives ended in apparent defeat or failure, swept away as if they had not been; while others have, almost as an afterthought, been honoured by decent people.
If I did not believe that they have, in St. Paul’s words, “filled out the sufferings of Christ” by opting to share the sacrificial process of God’s love for the world, and that they will therefore enjoy perfect felicity for ever and ever, I could not be a Christian. They have, contrary to worldly perceptions, chosen life and they will receive life. Whereas, for those who have chosen death, well, the author of The Revelation has promises for them also.