I speak to you in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Wow, what a roller coaster we have been on this past 40 days of Lent and Holy Week and Easter Sunday. I can well imagine the emotions you have felt; I’ve felt them too. How are we able to rest in the assurance that good will conquer evil? During our Lenten reflection time, we sat in silence and let Gods grace rest in us. Trefor and Selinde led us on a time of renewal and reflection and I felt much calmer and more aware of Gods presence in my life during those quiet times sitting together. As we moved into Palm Sunday and all the loud hosannas, love fills our hearts and we cheer with the crowds, Hosanna to Jesus Christ. In the space of that short service we move into hatred and loathing. Crucify Him, Crucify Him. A roller coaster of emotions for us sitting here at St Mary’s more than 2000 years later. Even though we know the final story, our hearts are still torn by the love and hatred of that people have towards our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
It is so easy to get caught up in the story, the everyday stories happening all around us and around the world – the stories of hatred, evil and destruction and not to be tainted by it. As we moved thru Holy Week – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the bleakness of both days, into Easter Saturday and Sunday, our vision is being cleared – we are more able to see that love and goodness conquer all. Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia! God, thru Jesus conquers death, and brings forth new life, a different life – if we are willing to accept it and work with it.
I want to talk a little bit about the Reading from The Revelation to John. In 2015, I went on that pilgrimage – visiting the 7 churches listed in the book. The experience of walking on the roads and paths that the disciples walked was very humbling and exhausting – mentally. Turkey was not a place I ever thought to travel to. My sister encouraged me to come along and the experience changed me profoundly.
We traveled with a Christian organization based out of Edmonton, about 40 of us. We had teaching at each “church” location by a very scholarly Lutheran Pastor. Hans was able to translate the scripture passage into something we could see and feel, almost like we were there when the scripture passage were written. These are somethings that I remember from our time there.
Let us first note John’s statement in verse 9. He says that he was writing this letter to the seven churches in Asia to tell them what he saw in a vision on the island of Patmos. He also says in that verse that he shared with the seven churches in persecution and patient endurance for Jesus’ sake. He was on Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. In other words, Roman authorities had banished him to this island as punishment for his preaching about Christ. Since Rome usually did not crucify - but banished high-ranking Roman citizens convicted of a crime, it may be that John was a Roman citizen and had some social standing.
We also went to Patmos and I knelt in the spot that John did, holes worn into the stones that made up the floor of his home, his place of exile, a cave. We were able to hear the scripture passages and pray while in the island of Patmos because it is a Christian place. While we wandered around Turkey, we had to be very quiet and circumspect when we worshipped because Christianity is not encouraged or supported in that country – it is predominantly Muslim.
The context from which John was writing this letter is crucial for a proper understanding all the nuances in verses 4-8. What he says in these verses is actually quite subversive. He offers his fellow believers grace and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come. In the world of the Roman Empire in the first century, Rome boasted of its Pax Romana (Roman peace). It prided itself in the fact that it brought unity and harmony to the world of that day. Never mind that this was done by military conquest, violence and killing of those who resisted Roman presence in the provinces. There were rewards for those who were cooperative and who pledged their allegiance to Rome but ostracism, humiliation and even death for those who defied it. We can then see the irony in John’s words, that grace and peace are not from Rome but from Christ who is and was and is to come. Past, present and future are encompassed in Christ. The Roman Empire boasted of itself as eternal; it was here to stay. But John sees a different picture. He even dares to mention another throne besides that of the Roman emperor.
Though Christ as a faithful witness (Greek word for witness is Martyr) was crucified by Roman authorities, he is the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Rome thinks it rules the world and its kings, but John sees another King behind the veil. Not only that, but Christ also made us to be a kingdom, the royal priesthood serving his God and Father. The Latin word for kingdom literally means empire. Christ made us an empire. Don’t let Rome hear this!
But why are priests lumped together with empire? In the first century, the idea of separation of church and state, that is so important in a democracy, was virtually unknown. Political power, economics and religion were intricately woven together to serve the imperial agenda. Roman emperors were thought to be divine. What the emperor said had been sanctioned by the gods. The pagan temples and their priests were part of the propaganda machine of the empire. Homage, honor and worship were offered to the emperor. Incidentally, Rome did not necessarily always have to flex its military muscle to force the people of the provinces and their kings to comply with the Roman agenda. Plenty of people gladly jumped on the Roman bandwagon because, after all, it was the most glorious show in town. The Roman emperor was the supreme patron and benefactor. Faithful clients who honored Rome were richly rewarded with power, prestige and economic wellbeing. Who would not want to serve such a benevolent master? But in case there were crazy people who did not wish to acknowledge Roman dominion, Rome could force submission with threats of violent death by flogging, crucifixion, beheading or vicious beasts in the amphitheater.
Verse 6 says “To him be glory and dominion forever and ever”. Rome’s domination of the world through violence will not last because real glory and dominion belong to God. In Johns Gospel, Jesus proves that real glory and dominion belong to God by returning to his disciples and saying to them “Peace be with you”. The violence of the crucifixion will not last. Peace be with you; Jesus says that 3 times in this Gospel reading. As Thomas doubted, so do we. Jesus returns to bring this good news message to the early disciples and brings it yearly to us. Can we believe, and not doubt, that Jesus lives and breathes the Holy Spirit on us? Peace be with you, whispered as a light breeze – does this inflame your heart? Does this have you yearning for a new and renewed relationship with God? Are we able to proclaim as Thomas did “My Lord and My God”? The psalm this morning says “Praise the Lord” praise him for his mighty deeds, praise him with music, cymbals, tambourines, dance. Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. Can we take this good news Easter message and proclaim it to the world? Jesus Christ is Risen; Jesus Christ is risen indeed. God is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end – God who is, and who was, and is to come.
We move from the apocalyptic reading in Revelation to Johns Gospel, the end is not near, death has been conquered, blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe and in verse 30 “ Jesus did many signs which are not written, in this book – so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that through believing you may have life in his name”. I pray that this will be so. AMEN