First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Easter 7

William Loader

Easter 7:  12 May  Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

There is a touch of the unreal in the words attributed to Jesus, "Look, I am coming soon!" It is how the author felt inspired to write, possibly because he saw such immediacy as a way of heightening motivation. Nearly 2000 years have intervened. The same is true of what follows: judgement will be on the basis of performance. While the threat of judgement and the fear that Christ may come soon do not really wash in the same way today, it is nevertheless salutary to be reminded that performance matters. Matthew argues in a similar way (e.g. 25:31-48). It is also a widespread assumption in the early church of New Testament times. It is not how many spiritual experiences we may have had nor how dramatic our conversion nor how often we call Jesus, "Lord", nor our standing before others, nor any other edifice of values we build around ourselves. What matters is performance because that is the true measure of change. We can then connect that to other parts of scripture which inform us about the appropriate kind of performance. Paul is one of our best guides, because he confronts the issue in 1 Corinthians 13.

Jesus is portrayed as presenting himself as he did at the beginning of the writing. He is the beginning and the end. In the broader sense he is the criterion for what matters and the one in whom we see it is possible. In 22:14 the imagery of washing returns. The washed are those who have opened themselves to the cleansing renewal brought by Christ, mainly expressed in Revelation in terms of cleansing from sin as a result of Christ's death. The verse continues with imagery from the opening chapters of the Bible. The forbidden tree of life now becomes available. These people enter the city, the image developed in the previous chapter. We are hearing promises of belonging which function as a kind of postlude and bring back to us the imagery developed most recently.

The lectionary avoids the obverse side stated in 22:15. We should let the author speak for himself and bring us his values even if we don't like them. Alas, what might be a description in sadness and concern that there may be a way for their inclusion does not read like that. Comfort for those who belong seems to be at the expense of compassion for those who are excluded. "Dogs" dehumanises them. The passage needs to be brought into dialogue with the story of Jesus' encounter with the Syrophoenician woman in which Jesus is shown moving from such a stance, albeit reluctantly at first, to a willingness to reach out to "dogs" and feed them, too (Mark 7:24-30). Whether "dogs" comes from racial prejudice or from moral superiority, dehumanising people runs into conflict with much else that we find in scripture. Scripture embodies the struggle. Uncritical readings use its pages to justify their prejudices and dismissive attitudes to others in every generation.

22:16 claims Jesus as the authority behind these messages to the churches. The authority of Jesus is being refracted through traditional images (here royal messianic) and through the author's theology and values. They are wonderful images evoking fulfilment of Israel's ancient political and religious hopes in new ways. There are faint echoes of Matthew's stories of the star - also drawing inspiration from Numbers 24:17.

Some of what follows almost sounds like a liturgy. The Spirit and the bride say: "Come!" Probably this refers to Jesus' coming. The bride is an image of the faithful. Then anyone who hears their cry should echo it: "Come!" But what immediately follows is an invitation directed to people. The wonderful image of thirsting for the water of life draws its inspiration from Isaiah 55:1 and finds its echo in John 4. We are being led beside still waters, to echo Psalm 23. Spirituality is to drink at the spring.

The lectionary then has us skip 22:18-19, where the author uses a common technique to claim authority for his writing and scare off people who might want to change it. We then return to the image of Jesus promising to come soon (22:20). It is like the liturgy returns as the author and his hearers respond: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" This may reflect an early liturgical prayer, which Paul brings us still in its Aramaic form: Marana tha! ("Our Lord, come!" 1 Cor 16:22). It is really the church saying: we long for the presence of Jesus and all he stood for (the promise of the kingdom of justice and peace). The closing benediction is not a theological statement: "The grace of the Lord Jesus is with (you) all", but a declaration which expresses a wish and also a confidence of its fulfilment: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with (you) all!" It does something as well as saying something. It is also a good way of being reminded that such grace is something we have here and now, and, on the basis of which we can read, discern and interpret what is before us.

First reading: Easter 7: 12 May Acts 16:16-34
Gospel: Easter 7: 12 May John 17:20-26

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