A Reflection Paper
Presented to Professor Craig Koester
St. Paul, Minnesota
Reading through Revelation in one sitting was an interesting experience. I do not come to this course as a completely blank slate, having recently preached a modified Lectionary series on Revelation, for which I did some reading and research (though not enough, I am sure) and skimmed the book. I also attended a two day synod pastor’s conference in 2005, at which Barbara Rossing spoke on her book, The Rapture Exposed. But, to be honest, I do not sit down and simply read the Bible enough. My Bible reading has become too instrumental, focused on preaching and teaching the text at hand, and until this spring I had never preached and taught Revelation. In any case, even as a seminary graduate and a preacher and teacher of the Bible, when one does not read apocalyptic literature like the book of Revelation for awhile, it takes on a forbidding mystique, and one tends to avoid it altogether. Perhaps that is why the so-called prophecy experts can make a living by peddling their secret knowledge (gnosis) of Revelation: the rest of us are too intimidated or lazy to read it ourselves.
I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find through preaching it, and then through reading it through, that Revelation was not impossibly obscure. In fact, even with only the introduction and notes by David Aune, included in my HarperCollins Study Bible, the book makes sense. It is not that suddenly every detail is clear, or that I or anyone else knows exactly what John intended every image or event to represent. But, with a little background information Revelation is rather straightforward, as far as poetic-apocalyptic works can be, and that makes me wonder why we do not do a better job of communicating Revelation in our congregations. The prophecy peddlers would not find such fertile ground in which to plant their seeds of dispensationalism if we communicated clearly the message of Revelation and other apocalyptic biblical literature.
As I read through Revelation (I also listened to it in one sitting while driving), I was struck by the back and forth between visions of judgment and visions of consolation, between God’s wrath and God’s new heaven and new earth. Of course, I was clued into this by a previous reading of part of Dr. Koester’s Revelation and the End of All Things in preparation for preaching. But when read as a poetic, apocalyptic letter written to churches under persecution in the Roman Empire, Revelation makes sense. In fact, it begins with individual messages to seven churches in Asia, which represent all churches. It includes the souls of those who had given their lives for the message of Christ in the presence of God. More than once, I heard “a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Rev. 13:10; 14:12). The book prophesies judgment on those who worship pagan gods and the emperor of Rome – especially on the kings and merchants – and vindication and salvation for those who conquer, who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.
My D. Min. thesis is on moving toward an “open source lectionary,” taking the Revised Common Lectionary as a common basis, while being open to prayerfully, thoughtfully, and communally modifying it as needed for proclamation in a given context. I was very interested in preaching through Revelation during this past season of Easter, but also wanted to take a critical look at the pericope choices the Lectionary makes. I found them to be rather short and focused almost exclusively on the visions of heaven and the new heaven and new earth – a perspective on the Lectionary I also found in Dr. Koester’s book – the worst example being the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year C), in which the reading assigned is Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21, skipping (surprise!) the verses of judgment. I decided to modify the texts for each Sunday, both expanding them and at least reading ‘around’ the beatific visions to include the word of judgment. Otherwise, the average person in the congregation hears only half of the story of Revelation, and is not equipped when she reads or hears someone lift up those words of judgment, upon which certain elements of our culture obsess. The sermon series was enlightening for me, and was appreciated by at least some of the listeners, precisely because we tend to avoid Revelation in the mainline churches.