A Reflection Paper
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 want to focus this reflection paper on the impact of this course on Revelation on my thesis. Especially knowing that I would be in this course, I was 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 the texts from Revelation 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 (Koester 2001) – 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, purposely skipping (surprise!) the verses of judgment in that chapter. 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. Here is how I modified the texts:
|Second Sunday of Easter||11-Apr-10||Revelation 1:4-8|
|Alternate Texts:||Revelation 1:1-20|
|Third Sunday of Easter||18-Apr-10||Revelation 5:11-14|
|Alternate Texts:||Revelation 5:1-14|
|Fourth Sunday of Easter||25-Apr-10||Revelation 7:9-17|
|Alternate Texts:||Revelation 7:1-17 (with reference to Rev. 6)|
|Fifth Sunday of Easter||2-May-10||Revelation 21:1-6|
|Alternate Texts:||Revelation 21:1-14|
|Sixth Sunday of Easter||9-May-10||Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5|
|Seventh Sunday of Easter||16-May-10||Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21|
|Alternate Texts:||Revelation 22:6-21|
Being in this course with Dr. Koester, however, I became acutely aware of the holes in the Lectionary readings from Revelation– not just within the chapters that are included in the readings, but the chapters that are skipped completely. As a whole, the RCL skips chapters 2-4, 6, and 8-20: 17 out of 22 chapters of Revelation do not make the cut at all, including thirteen chapters in a row. As we worked through the book of Revelation with Dr. Koester, I became aware of the narrative unity of Revelation, as well as the value of many of the passages skipped by the RCL. For example, the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 are missing; without reading at least some of them, the awareness of the nature of Revelation as a letter to actual churches in first century Asia gets lost. Dr. Koester describes the book of Revelation’s non-linear, spiral movement between threatening and assuring visions (Koester 2001) 39. It seems especially important, in a Lutheran context, to spend some time with Law/Gospel dynamic going on in Revelation. The whole center of the book that is missing from the Lectionary includes the visions of the “Trumpets of Terror and Hope;” “The Beast and the Lamb,” including the Woman, the angel Michael, and the Dragon; “The Harlot and the Bride;” and “The End,” including the Great Battle, the Millennial Kingdom, and the Final Judgment (Koester 2001) viii-ix. We seem to lose confidence as preachers when we approach these texts; they seem too strange, or too violent, or too difficult to interpret. They are, indeed, challenging texts to preach, especially because we in Lectionary bound churches rarely if ever preach them. But, after spending time with these texts, I can testify that they do preach! Interpreted correctly, according to its apocalyptic genre and its specific imagery, Revelation has a relatively clear and powerful message of hope in the midst of the struggles with the “beast” in every age. If we preachers in mainline do not interpret and proclaim the message of Revelation, we can be sure that other interpreters will reach our church members with a dispensationalist reading of Revelation. It is time to reclaim the book of Revelation for the church.
After taking this course, I plan to do another short series on Revelation in the fall, focusing on some of those passages that the Lectionary skips – perhaps a couple of the messages to the churches, and then parts of the central section, chapters 8-20. Our series in the season of Easter set the stage, with a broad framework of the book and its culminating vision of the new heaven and new earth. The congregation already knows where the story is heading. But I plan to explore some of those confusing images of Revelation (the woman, Michael, the dragon, the beasts, the harlot of Babylon, etc.), and proclaim the Gospel through those passages. The goal will be to share the fuller message of Revelation, and empower the congregation to read Revelation for themselves and be confident to interpret it in non-dispensationalist terms.
Koester, C. R. (2001). Revelation and the end of all things. Grand Rapids, Mich., W.B. Eerdmans.