This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Majority in Israel want “apartheid / separate development” for Palestinians, poll claims
The Seventh Seal and the Golden Censer
8When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.2And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
3 Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne.4And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.5Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.<!– 6 –>
The Seven Trumpets
6 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets made ready to blow them.
7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were hurled to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
8 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea.9A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.11The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter.
12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light was darkened; a third of the day was kept from shining, and likewise the night.
13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew in mid-heaven, ‘Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of t he earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!’
The simple key to understanding the book of The Revelation is that the events in heaven are images of the choices made on earth, exposed in the light of God’s goodness. So, the “springs of the water of life” seen in yesterday’s extract (see blog 864) are the inner reality of the sacrificial giving of the great crowd of people. Just so, in today’s extract, the destructive natural disasters which accompany the trumpets are the inner reality of the actions of the Roman empire and its citizens. These are presented as consequences, even perhaps as punishments, but the reader should understand that they are truthful images of the evil done by the empire. Its arrogance, wealth and violence disrupt the creation and make it unfriendly to human habitation. Before we dismiss this as ancient gobbledygook we should reflect that just the other day there was a scientific report that in one generation we had killed off a third of the species that lived in the ocean.
Did nobody hear a trumpet?
The Return of the Seventy
17 The seventy* returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’18He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’<!– 21 –>
21 At that same hour Jesus* rejoiced in the Holy Spirit* and said, ‘I thank* you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.*22All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
23 Then turning to the disciples, Jesus* said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!24For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’
Jesus uses Revelation-style imagery here to describe the success of the seventy whom he sent out. Their work has brought Satan tumbling from heaven! There’s an attractive humour in Jesus’ words, but he wants his disciples to understand that the inner reality of their teaching and healing is a victory in the cosmic battle against evil. This victory has not been won by superior intelligence or power but by their honest desire to share God’s goodness in word and action. Their humility has been a channel of divine peace, just as Jesus, the child of God, has been a channel for the Father’s will. This child-likeness towards God is the heart of God’s rule: only those who receive the rule of God like little children can enter it. This not a demand for unquestioning submission but rather for the full use of all human abilities in the consciousness of human frailty and the greatness of God’s love. The task of a true apostle is to tell the story of God and to show the love of God. That’s what the prophets of old-time wanted to see, that’s what knocks the prince of evil off his perch.
Luke hoped that the churches of his day would learn from this passage what to do in their own time and place. I might hope the same for churches now, but that depends on me and people like me being ready to learn about God from his human son. Only from him do I get some idea of how to tell the story of God’s goodness boldly, briefly, vividly, controversially, as he did-and how to be a source of healing-not to accept anyone’s suffering as God’s will, except our own, and even there we should ask questions, as he did.