Opening the Word: Winning in weakness
When we hear the word “apocalyptic,” images of wrath and destruction come to mind — blockbuster films with malevolent aliens or brain-hungry zombies. The “apocalyptic” refers to the foreboding promise of destruction, the end of the age in which human history comes to a screeching halt.
The Book of Revelation, read during the season of Easter, is known as the Apocalypse. Opening the pages of Revelation, we discover a world threatened by total destruction. There are plagues and the pouring out of divine wrath on the city of Babylon. There is the suffering of the saints, washed in the blood of the Lamb.
Christians have often misread this book, seeing in it a “literal” prediction of the end of history. This is a fundamentalist reading, one that interprets the bizarre images of Revelation as a hidden prophecy about the politics of our day.
|Third Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2019|
ACTS 5:27-32, 40B-41
PS 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13
OR JN 21:1-14
This way of reading the Book of Revelation is not entirely off the mark. The Book of Revelation operates through a symbolic theology, one in which the Christian reader is invited to meditate on the perils of power and the evils of empire.
History is full of those drunk on the bloodlust of power. Babylon does not need to be a single nation, existing in but a univocal moment in time. Babylon can be Rome in the first century, Nazi Germany, ISIS, clerics who have forgotten their identities as priests of Jesus Christ, and an American culture of consumerism that operates according to the haves rather than the have-nots. Babylon can be all these things at once.
The Book of Revelation invites Christians to take up a posture toward Babylon of not fighting power with power. The Christian is to meet the evils of empire with the delight of doxology, of praise.
Easter faith is expressed perfectly in the hymns of praise that ring out in the heavenly court in the Book of Revelation. It is not the young, ruddy politician who is worthy of praise. It is not a political program that will save humanity. The only source of power is the Lamb once slain, the sacrifice of divine love that now reigns over heaven and earth. Whether we believe it or not.
Peter and the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles perform this doxology of delight when confronted by authorities in Jerusalem. They preach Christ crucified and raised from the dead. They do not rely on the power of their intellect, their own will and their political savvy. Peter and the apostles rejoice, praising God that they have been invited to share in the sufferings of their Lord and God. Of Our Lord and Our God.
In this sense, the Book of Revelation is the most necessary of readings during the season of Easter. In this strangest of texts, we discover the ripples of the Resurrection in human history. We learn to see the world in light of Easter.
Christ is risen from the dead. Power has been defeated by weakness, by a love that endures unto death. But, of course, there are those who operate as if this is not the case. They operate according to the logic of an empire where only the strong win.
Easter is an apocalyptic season, one in which the hidden logic of this world is revealed for what it is — a lie. It is not power, politics or prestige that is to be worshipped.
The only salvation available to the human race is the adoration of the Lamb once slain, Jesus Christ.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.