bible blog 1461

The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headlines are meant to keep my thinking real:


Shin Dong-Hyuk, born in a North Korean Prison Camp, now free

Shin Dong-Hyuk, born in a North Korean Prison Camp, now free

THE REVELATION 7 from verse 9

After this, I saw a large crowd with more people than could be counted. They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands, 10 as they shouted,

“Our God, who sits
    upon the throne,
has the power
to save his people,
    and so does the Lamb.”

11 The angels who stood around the throne knelt in front of it with their faces to the ground. The elders and the four living creatures knelt there with them. Then they all worshiped God 12 and said,

“Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom,
    thanks, honor, power,
and strength belong to our God
    forever and ever! Amen!”

13 One of the elders asked me, “Do you know who these people are that are dressed in white robes? Do you know where they come from?”

14 “Sir,” I answered, “you must know.”

Then he told me:

“These are the ones
who have gone through
    the great suffering.
They have washed their robes
in the blood of the Lamb
    and have made them white.
15 And so they stand
    before the throne of God
and worship him in his temple
    day and night.
The one who sits on the throne
will spread his tent
    over them.
16 They will never hunger
    or thirst again,
and they won’t be troubled
by the sun
    or any scorching heat.

17 The Lamb in the center
of the throne
    will be their shepherd.
He will lead them to streams
    of life-giving water,
and God will wipe all tears
    from their eyes.”

lambYesterday in Bible Blog 1460 I introduced the notion of the “othersidedness” of life; that all we see and know is only one side of the coin, the city of humanity, while its other side is the city of God. In the visions of the Book of Revelation the author, John the Elder, presents both sides. The link between them is the figure of the Lamb who has been slaughtered on earth yet lives at the heart of God’s throne. This is the author’s image of Jesus Messiah. The Lamb still suffers in the sufferng of his servants in the city of humanity, while they share the Lamb’s victory in God’s city.

The demon- possessed city in the Revelation is Rome with its wealth, corruption, domination and trade in human lives.The “great suffering” is doubtless one of the many persecutions of Christians by the Imperial power. Christian believers were peaceful citizens of the Empire but their refusal to acknowledge Caesars as Gods, caused offence; and their distictive life-style made them popular targets for persecution. Jews in the Empire were permitted their trdaitional worship as a religio licita- an approved religion. Christianity was not officially approved, so that believers were always at risk from the suspicion of neighbours or local officials, as well as the whims of emperors. To stand firm against the deification of imperial power was difficult and requred courage. Many believers were imprisoned and beaten, while others from time to time were killed. One side of the coin as seen by John the Elder was filled with injustice, courage and suffering.

But the other side, the city of God is very near, intersecting with the city of humanity, in the lives of those who trust in it. It is,in a sense the loving pressure of God’s city on the human city that arouses faith and courage to oppose the demonic power of the Empire. Those who quietly worship the one God amidst the idolatry of Empire are also those who stand before God’s throne. God himself takes them into the divine tent and shelters them tenderly. No human violence or natural disaster will ever touch them again. They wear white, the colour of victory and hold the symbols of victory, because they have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb, that is, they have shared the suffering of Jesus the Lamb of God, who will now shepherd them to the springs of the water of life. The Lamb is the sign the God conquers by love.

There are all manner iof images of God in the Bible and in this book, but the most powerful surely is of God as the mother who holds the weeping child and wipes the tears from its eyes. In the city of God there will only be tears of joy. There the power of evil is utterly disarmed and suffering absorbed into the victorious suffering of the Lamb.

holy city through barbed wire

holy city through barbed wire

Ah but all this is only a guess at the another side of the coin, which may or may not exist, while the side we can see is still filled with injustice and violence. I think that the lives of the best people I’ve known, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack of them, are a powerful argument for reality of the “other side”. Why did they persist to the point of suffering for the sake of oithers? Why did they stand so nobly for the truth? Why did they keep on pouring out the wealth of their souls even into old age? Surely because had they glimpsed a distant spire or so of God’s city and could not forget it. “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God because he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11)

On this day of All saints, here is a powerful vision of the suffering and victory of the saints, which should give us eyes to see God’s city as it impinges on the city of capitalism, giving courage to oppose creatively, to suffer courageously, and to love victoriously.

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