First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Easter 6

William Loader

Easter 6:  1 May  Revelation 21:10,22-27; 22:1-5

The Book of Revelation reaches its climax with a vision of hope. The vision represents a reworking of Israel's hopes. The heavenly city has come down from heaven - a new Jerusalem. The observation that it contains no sanctuary should not be seen as anti-temple. The point is rather the immediacy of God's presence. The same goes for the statement that there will no longer be sun and moon. These are not disparaging of the created order, but rather part of the poetry of hope. There is a sense in which the focus is deliberately not on a place or on rewards but on the person of God and the lamb who in a sense defines God's being. Ultimate hope is to be in the presence of the God who is beyond all and in all. To speak of God's glory is to speak of God's being in all its richness.

As Israel's hope sometimes envisages that Gentiles would come to Zion not to make war but to make common cause in peace and celebration, so here there is a universal vision of hope. As the magi fulfilled this in the symbolism of Matthew's birth narratives, so here we find the kings of the earth bringing their gifts. The imagery reflects Isaiah 60 which inspires the vision with its promise of light (60:1; see also Zech 14:7), of nations coming with gifts (60:11), and of the gates always being open (60:11). There it is more nationalistic (see 60:12). Here it is generous. The hopes for Zion ranged from narrow nationalism, which evokes the violence of protest not least in our own day and remains a number one world issue, to open, welcoming images of universal peace.

Gates were closed in times of danger and war. Those whose names are written in the lamb's book of life are safe - at last. Outside are the unclean. This is cultic language, but probably with more of a focus on immorality. Ultimately a vision that is satisfied to permanently exclude the immoral carries a conflict within itself and threatens to unravel the good news or relegate it to something of temporary relevance.

Ezekiel's wonderful vision of the river which flows from the temple out into all the land, feeding trees whose leaves bring healing and which bear fruit every month (Ezekiel 47:1-12), inspires the opening images of Revelation's final chapter. The author imagines it flowing from God and the lamb, who now replace the temple. It is the life of God flowing like a river - a wonderful image. The tree of life - once withheld in Eden (Gen 3:22) - bears twelve different kinds of fruit, and does so every month. The twelve reflects the twelve tribes of Israel, but in Revelation this is not a closed metaphor as if it were limited to Israel, but an open image which extends to include all. The universal touch is evident where Revelation takes Ezekiel's comment about the leaves bring for healing and adds: "for the nations" (22:2).

"Nothing cursed" in 22:3 echoes "nothing unclean" in 22:27. It is then as if the author returns to where he began in 21:22. By 22:5 we are back with the notion of light. 22:5 declares they shall rule forever. Hope as a desire to rule is interesting. Traditionally that was hope for control over the uncontrollable and the dangers. Nationalistically that would mean rule over the nations, smashing the enemy (Psalm 2:7-8). Here one wonders who is ruling whom? If all are ruling, then somehow the vision unwinds its own imagery. Rule, then, becomes something like being able to be what we can be rather than subjugating others. If we press the image we end up with a notion of everyone being a priest and everyone being a ruler - which changes, indeed, subverts the values which some cherish in each role.

22:14-15 reminds us that this splendid vision of hope comes at a cost: the "dogs" who are excluded. That need not take away from the splendid images of hope. It may however mean that we bear in mind that such images of hope and love do not coexist well with passages which are apparently not pained to present the exclusion and torment of the excluded. Is hope at the cost of writing off most of humanity really the kind of hope we can live with? Doesn't it lead people to espouse such ultimate values already in this life and act on them?

First Reading: Easter 6: 1 May Acts 16:9-15
Gospel: Easter 6: 1 May John 14:23-29

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