Today's Lectionary Text
Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures call out, as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there was a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer.
When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature call out, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another; and he was given a great sword.
When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature call out, “Come!” I looked, and there was a black horse! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand, and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s pay, and three quarts of barley for a day’s pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!”
When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature call out, “Come!” I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on earth or sea or against any tree. I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea, saying, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.”
And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel:
What crazy person decided to write a devotional on Revelation? Slaughter and pestilence and vengeance — where are they going with this?!?
The answer to the first question is simple: I’m a pastor who (a.) apparently likes a theological challenge, and (b.) is currently leading a Bible study on Revelation, and therefore couldn’t resist when this was one of the recommended lectionary texts. As for where I’m going with this? Well, I have recently found myself on a journey to reclaim and re-embrace this oft-misunderstood final book of the Bible.
Revelation is a book that has baffled, befuddled and more-than-occasionally terrified Christians and non-Christians alike over the last two millennia. I remember being horrified as a preteen when I discovered the “Left Behind” series, because I simply couldn’t fathom God being so mean. I had just recently learned about prevenient grace and was flabbergasted at the idea that God’s overflowing love and mercy might someday be replaced with heaping helpings of blood, fire, and locusts. I hadn’t actually read Revelation at that point, and after that “Left Behind” encounter I decided to avoid it at all costs—which I did successfully until a New Testament class in college. That was where I learned that Revelation wasn’t a frightening tome penned by a Stephen King-wannabe … in fact, it was the opposite! It was a message of profound hope, couched in cryptic symbology that would ensure that it could only be decoded by its intended audience (and not by their persecutors!).
And now that I’m leading a group through James Erfird’s “Revelation for Today,” I find myself even more intrigued by provocative, prophetic and inspiring nature of this book. And it’s not just the nerdy joy of uncovering the symbols and hidden meanings — although in case you were wondering, Erfird makes a pretty compelling argument about the message of the text above! (He argues that he first horseman is the Emperor Domitian, that the other three are the warfare and scarcity and death which persisted under his reign, and that the 144,000 represent the totality of God’s people being marked for salvation.) No, the real appeal of Revelation isn’t in its vivid symbolism — it’s in the message that lies underneath.
The profound truth which undergirds all of Revelation is this: pain is real, and persecution is real, and they are also temporary. Evil does not get the last word. Suffering doesn’t last forever, and Jesus — the triumphant slaughtered lamb — suffers with us. Revelation reminds us that God is with us in times of agony as well as in times of joy, and it also reminds us that love prevails and that the Kingdom continues to be present on earth … even when it feels like the end of the world.
-Rev. Emily Spearman Cannon
Auburn First, NE
Prayer for Reflection
Mighty God, when the world feels overwhelming, and when the forces of evil, injustice, and oppression appear to be in the lead, remind us of the baptismal vows which seal us. Remind us that we are not alone, and kindle in us a passion for the building of your Kingdom. In the name of your son, the Suffering Servant, we pray. Amen.
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