This Sunday we shift gears a bit. We have been looking at the mysteries of faith throughout the season of Lent, and on Easter Sunday we reflected on how diving into the mysteries of faith leads to even greater mystery, and our only response is wonder and awe. Our only response, is “Hallelujah,” Praise God!
Well, this week we will start in on a different kind of mystery, one that is fairly terrifying to most people—The Book of Revelation! (Cue the foreboding music) The Book of Revelation has always been a contentious and challenging part of our tradition. Early on, the church father’s debated whether it should be included in the canon of scripture. During the reformation, both Calvin and Luther disliked the book greatly—in fact, Calvin wrote a commentary on every book of the New Testament except Revelation because he didn’t think it had a place in scripture. Today, Revelation is often used for fear mongering and to make money off of fear by producing books and movies that prey on said fear.
Here is the problem: All of those ways of understanding Revelation fall short of the book’s intended purposes. All of those understandings show us only part of the picture—actually, that is exactly what Revelation is supposed to be about.
You see, Revelation is apocalyptic writing. Usually that word, “Apocalypse,” conjures images of the end of the world, fire, tribulation, war, famine, pestilence, etc. The problem is—that isn’t at all what the word means. Apocalypticism was a movement that used wild and imaginative storytelling to reveal the world as it really is—to reveal the full picture, ironically. The Greek roots of the word Apo calypsis, literally translates as “to uncover” or “to lift the veil.” The idea was to write these vivid portrayals of the broken world filled with oppressive forces that would ultimately be overcome by the faithful who had suffered persecution. The only way to do this with the oppressive forces looking over your shoulder, was to do it as a kind of otherworldly, comic book style writing that used symbols extensively. As strange, violent and terrifying as these writings often appear to be, the ultimate purpose of any of these writings is to instill hope in oppressed and persecuted peoples. They weren’t ever about fear, they were about hope. Any one who says otherwise is trying to sell you a stake in the Brooklyn bridge!
In fact, the only fear that should be generated by a text like Revelation is for the oppressors. If we experience fear when reading this book, then it might be a social commentary on the fact that we need to be taking better care of the least of these…
For the next month, we will be spending some time in the Book of Revelation. The hope is to come out with a better understanding of what is really there, and how it has been so misused. I would love to tell you that we are going to demythologize the book, but the reality is, some mythology must necessarily be maintained to properly understand the book. However, what I do think will come from the next month is a better understanding of what Revelation is all about, and how it brings a word of hope to our lives even today, and how the purpose of a book like Revelation is not to instill fear, but to alleviate it!