Lauren J. McFeaters
April 17, 2016
Let’s start at the beginning. The entire Bible is a library and its different types of literature appeal to us through different avenues.
Some books, like the Psalms, touch our emotions.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.”
There are also books of law and commands that speak to our will, requiring us to respond in obedience.
“Thou shalt!” “Thou shalt not!” “Thou shalt!”
There are books of letters, like Paul’s that send us to our intellect, our brainpower, and we patiently move through theological reasoning.
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
And then there’s the Book of Revelation or more correctly:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
to John the Theologian,
imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos
off the coast of Turkey.
It is Revelation that takes us straight to our imagination. The Revelation to John is one colossal extravaganza of dreams and creatures and angels. It’s an enormous and spectacular poem full of shocking visions, countless beasts, and ruinous verdicts.(1) A book innumerable people have tried to de-code.
So let’s pause and start where we really should start — with a corrective: We need to forget about trying to decode Revelation. It can’t be done. Trying to translate that this particular beast means a future calamity, this seal signifies the doom of a particular part of the world, this prophecy indicates a cataclysm event.
All of this de-coding of beasts and disasters and seals is swirling around our heads not because of translation with integrity, but because of the Doomsday Industry: the Left Behind series, Doomsday gaming, Armageddon publishers, Judgment Day apps, and big-screen, end-of-the-world Hollywood productions.
It’s all modern day marketing, playing on fear, anxiety, and panic, and using the Revelation to John as a time table for the rapture — the very end of the world. The word “rapture” never appears in the Bible. It’s all to make a buck on the backs of people’s upset and distress. The Doomsday Industry, although it’s made billions, is nonsense. Garbage. All of it. Every bit of it can be left behind. Wiped away. Bye. Bye.
And why should it be left behind? Because Revelation, first and foremost, is a book of comfort and hope, not desolation and despair.(2)
Revelation is a letter written to seven churches experiencing unimaginable persecution and it depicts a consummation toward which the whole biblical message of redemption is focused. It’s a letter of compassion and empathy. And rather than catastrophe it encompasses what it is to be an Easter people serving a Risen Lord.
It’s written by a fellow Christian, John. He offers:
- Pastoral encouragement for Christians confronted with tyranny and cruelty
- A soulful guide in times of fear
- A daily devotional for the renewal of hearts
- An inspiration for discipleship
- Sustenance for our work with the Holy Spirit.(3)
And the One who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more,
and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd,
he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
On the western coast of Scotland is an island called the Isle of Iona. I know some of you have been there. It’s magnificent. It’s quite small and calm and surrounded by the sea.
Iona is known to the locals as a “thin place.” A “thin place” is named not because of slight size or high altitude, but because it is believed within these places the distance between heaven and earth is slender, and in its “thinness” you can perceive something of heaven itself.
Nora Tubbs Tisdale puts it like this: The ancient Celts, sensing the deep spirituality of this place built many of their worship places on them, some still marked today by circles of stone. Later Christians also built churches and monasteries and cemeteries there. And people who visit today sometimes say they lose all track of time and space, and they know, deep down, they are on holy ground. For in thin places, boundaries of time and space fade away.(4)
We need thin places. I’ve been to Iona and indeed it is a place where the confines of time and space melt away; where the veil between heaven and earth grows marvelously slight. I’ve experienced this in places like Kyoto, as a child, looking up to the sky from under the cherry trees; in Quebec City overlooking the vast St. Lawrence, inside New York City’s Signature Theater, and here at the font and table.
And I wonder: do you have thin places in your own life? Places where the confines of time and space melt away; where the veil between heaven and earth grows marvelously slight; where you have the sure sense you’re grounded in the holy?(5)
The Revelation to John is a thin place. The Revelation to John is where we step through the ethereal veil and glimpse something of God’s dream for us.
I looked and there was a great multitude
that no one could count, from every nation,
from all tribes and peoples and languages,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb,
robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Prof. Tisdale says she recently heard someone say we’re were going to be very surprised by the people we meet in heaven, and if John’s vision is an accurate one, it will definitely be so. John says: We’re all going to be surprised about heaven and certainly about people we consider deplorable. People who have mightily wronged us. People we’ve had an eagle eye on; from homelands we consider to be enemies. And people we’ve had no eye on because of poverty, sickness, or class.
They will all be there: all genders, all colors, all abilities, all gifts, and all liabilities. No matter how inclusive we think we are; heaven, according to John’s vision, will be infinity times more so. Inclusivity will not be the only surprise awaiting us in heaven. We’re also going to be surprised by the scope of healing.
I know that most of us already think of heaven as a place of personal healing. And what a comfort it is to know that our loved ones, many of whom have suffered great illness in this life, will be completely whole in the life to come. But as John lifts up the veil and lets us glimpse into heaven, we witness a healing that is substantially more than our personal lives and the lives of our loved ones.(6)
We witness the rebuilding of the nations and the homelands and the nation-states. We witness the restoration of humanity scared by warfare and missiles; starvation and disease; rape and viciousness. We witness the healing of dreams deferred and childhoods postponed.
Heaven is the place where the injustices of this world will be made right and “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free” will be held hostage. Neither rich nor poor, employed nor unemployed, neither citizen, nor immigrant, nor refuge will be held in captive. There will be a new homeland for the vulnerable, the meek, the righteous, the merciful, the peacemakers.
All are embraced. All are welcome. All are healed. All find home.
People of God, hear the Good News:
The One who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne is their shepherd,
and he is guiding us to the water of life.
And God; well, God is wiping away
Let us pray: Lord God, you have given us a glimpse into the heart of love. We praise you. Your promise is full of healing and hope. Show us how to participate in this mystery, and transform us to be your faithful people. We thank you for a life in the Spirit. We thank you for this vision and for your infinite peace. Amen.
(1) Bruce M. Metzger. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation. Nashville, KY: Abingdon Press, 11-12, 106, 1993.
(2) Thanks to Susan W. Thompson for this reference from a class taught at Princeton Theological Seminary by Bruce M. Metzger.
(3) Metzger, 106.
(4) Nora Tubbs Tisdale. “Glimpsing Heaven in Thin Places,” Revelation 7:9-17. Day 1, Alliance for Christian Media. Atlanta, GA, www.day1.org/1117-glimpsing_heaven_in_thin_places, November 2, 2008.
© 2016 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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