This Easter season an interesting possibility is upon us: lessons from the Apocalypse of John occupy our epistle lessons each Sunday.
Commentary on Biblical-illiteracy among western Christians is well-stated/ over-stated by the professionally religious – but even if there is only a modicum of truth to that (and I think there is) it is absolutely true when it comes to the Book of Revelation.
Many people completely misunderstand it, overlay it with abiblical theology, and then hang on every misconstrued verse. Many others find it to be scary, unintelligible, and crazy-weird, and so they avoid it altogether. Most are confused by the two polar-extreme exegeses and just give up.
But, this book is so, so very important – and utterly important when it comes to the Great Fifty Day Festival of Resurrection. Because it’s in John’s vision that the implications of Jesus’ Resurrection are allowed to bear themselves out. It’s in this book that we see that all things are made new because of the Lamb’s death and rising. It’s in Revelation that we see the full effect of the empty tomb – because when we look in this tomb we find that all of creation isn’t there – for we have risen.
It’s in the Revelation to John that the ramifications of Jesus’ Resurrection are shown to be cosmic in scale. And, it’s beautiful. And, sometimes it’s grotesque. But, whatever it is, it isn’t shades of grey. It’s bold, its scale is epic, and it’s Life.
The vision which John narrates is chock full of poetry, imagery, and obvious references back to the Garden of Eden and the beginning of all things. And, it’s not just that they make a reprise, but they are made new: the Garden has become a City, the Tree of Life is feasted on, God’s people walk with God again. God’s people sing a new song.
In the Gospel lesson there are nascent seeds of things new, but totally unconceived of. The disciples meet the Risen Lord, but they don’t know it’s him until they pull in the mother-load of fish. Like Mary mistaking Jesus for the gardener and like the disicples on the road to Emmaus – there is something so very different about Jesus that people don’t know when he walks up to them and starts talking. And yet, there is some quality of Jesus that is the same – and upon further looking his identity is revealed.
Jesus asks Peter, in a perfectly excruciating scene, if he loves him. Three times. Peter answers innocently at first, and then indignantly that, of course, he loves him. But, what Jesus is talking about is so much more than idle feeling or attachment to another. Jesus has been transformed so radically that he is hardly discernable as the same person. And the love that he demands of his disciples – and Peter in particular – is also to be a radically transformed love that transcends any kind of love that Peter ever felt before. It was to be a love that nourished Jesus’ lambs. It’s a full-bodied love – a Resurrected love.
I think it took Peter years to work out exactly what Jesus was saying here. I would have loved to have seen the expression on Peter’s old weathered face when it finally struck him – the enormity of love that Jesus was talking about.
I like to think that that moment came sometime close to Peter’s realization that he too would be crucified.
The stories of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances are mini-apocalypses – because they are revealing. (apocalypse means ‘to reveal’) They reveal who Jesus is, what he is, and who we are in the wake of his Rising.
The fifth chapter of Revelation is one of the Christological highlights in the Apocalypse of John (maybe the whole Bible) where Jesus is hailed by angels, heavenly beings, and thousands of the faithful departed as the One who is worthy of power, wealth, wisdom, and might. Two weeks ago we read the Christ Hymn in Philippians where we were told that in the aftermath of Jesus’ death (even death on a cross) that he was highly exalted by God and every creature on the earth and above the earth would praise his Name.
In the fifth chapter of Revelation we see the fulfillment of just that. Jesus’ identity and stature is revealed. The Lamb has been revealed as the victor. The slave who died a slave’s death has been revealed as worthy.
And as we move on in the lessons from Revelation this Easter season we will see how the spotlight of revealing moves from demonstrating who this Jesus is now that he’s Risen towards who we are – what creation is – now that he’s risen.
And when the Heavenly City of Zion descends from above and there’s a new heaven and a new earth – the party will be out of this aeon.