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We have many artists in our 9th Grade class who have translated some of the Revelation symbols into visuals for us.
Introduction to the book of revelation
Martin Luther--despite using the book's imagery to attack his enemies in various letters and documents--rather disliked the Revelation. This is actually the reason it's the last book in our Bible. Having stewed over the book while translating the Bible into the German vernacular, he eventually decided to keep it but put it in the back.
Many people think of the Rapture when they think of this apocalyptic book, but the Rapture is not scripturally sound. The idea of "rapture" originated in 1830, when a fifteen-year-old girl had a vision during a healing service. The word "rapture" never appears in the Revelation, but this vision has become so culturally pervasive that images like empty clothes and faithful floating up into the sky readily pop into our mind.
The symbols which stand out to us in this text are the "seven churches," the "clouds," and the "throne." The number 7 is a symbolic number throughout the Old and New Testaments. The most obvious reference to the number seven might be in Genesis 1 where God created the world in seven days. And, elsewhere in the early parts of Revelation, the author names these provinces and places where the churches operate. At one time, the author is joining the symbolic nature of apocalyptic literature with real-time worshipping communities, bridging the gap between abstract symbolism and actual Christ-followers.
The words "clouds" and "throne" really set the stage for the whole book. Through the author's imagery, we get to see things and people in the clouds, we get to see a lamb on the throne. The whole book is about seeing God at work. When prompted to reflect on this text, a couple 9th graders shared how they see God at work in their lives:
- "Whenever I have faced a significant challenge, I believe in God to Guide me through each road block."
- "When I feel lonely, someone (God) is there. He helps me through my struggles."
The "throne" stands out again in this text, but we've also the Four Creatures and the Lamb. Here, we get a glimpse of the Book of Revelation's main message: God's power looks very different than how we understand power on earth. If we asked you to think of a powerful king or queen, you might imagine a leader clad in armor, sword in hand, quietly confident after a recent conquest. This is not what God's power looks like. Instead, sitting on this throne is a cute, cuddly lamb, affectionately dubbed "Lamby." This is the most vulnerable, cuddly, non-threatening creature you can imagine. Our students write, "God's power focuses
more on love and the sacrifices you make for it, like sacrificing the lamb," and "God's power creates miracles and the sacrifice of the lamb prevents satan from getting to God." God's power looks like love, selflessness, approachability, and humility. We will find out in the rest of the Revelation that the power of love will be victorious over the powers of greed, violence, and despair.
SUNDAY MAY 12 (2019)
You may be catching on that "lamby" and the "throne" are very important images in the Book of Revelation. In this text, a multitude of people have gone through a great ordeal--which is to say that they have suffered but have come out on the other side--and they are now praising Lamby with palms waving in their hands. The palms are a symbol of victory for the Israelite people, reference military victory in the book of Macabees. You may also think of Christ's entry into Jerusalem. These images are intended to get the reader thinking about these other events.
We're skipping now to the latter part of the Revelation. Lamby and its throne have been victorious and we're getting a whole new set of symbols to play with: "a bride beautifully dressed for her husband" and "the old order of things has passed away." Everything is made new, here. The bride represents both Jerusalem the city and its people. Jerusalem and the Israelite people have both been beaten down, and both have deviated from God's path; but now, both have been reclaimed and reoriented. As our students say, this text "helps reassure us that God is always there for us and that he will protect us from the evil in the world." No matter how bad the world gets, or how justice might seem far away, God has envisioned a new world for us.
Our symbols and metaphors are getting more exciting and more intricate. The ones that stand out to our students include "he carried me away in the spirit to a mountain" and "his name will be on their foreheads." The first one they take to mean that "God will lead you in the right path." God is indeed carrying us, pulling us into this new future. The mountain has long been a symbol for closeness with God. It was on the mountain that Moses spoke with God. God is carrying us forward into a Godly future.
The second metaphor about names and foreheads was taken to mean "God being with you, as literal, as his name being written on your forehead." In Baptism, we have been joined to God not only in name but also in life and death. As members of God's family, we are invited to know God as God already knows us.
Our final installment in the Book of Revelation paints a beautiful picture of God's new kingdom. In this text, we hear about God's power as the beginning and end, as Alpha and Omega; hear feel clean and proper with talk of robes; we look forward to eternal life as we gaze upon the Tree of Life. There are so many symbols and metaphors present in this passage, but they all illustrate the inclusiveness and wholeness of God's ordered world. Our world is full of demarkations, which tell us that some people are better than others, that some people are welcome when others are not--but, in this Book of Revelation, we know that ALL ARE WELCOME. And, this is our challenge today, to make Trinity welcoming to all of God's creation.
We already do great things in our attempt to be hospitable. These were highlighted by our 9th graders:
- Holy Communion for all
- Open to all ethnicities and cultures
- accommodating of vegetarians/vegans
- welcoming to those in LGBT+ communities
- host to other organizations/events
- all are equal regardless of financial status
- community activities
We also acknowledged that we've ways we could grow in welcoming people:
- not everything in the church is handicap accessible
- we could do a better job of respecting everyone's opinions
- the sanctuary sometimes feels too full on holidays
- there is not a lot of diversity in our pews
The Book of Revelation illustrates for us the beauty inherent in diversity and the joy that comes with radical inclusion. We are called to build this kingdom together and to be as welcoming and exciting a community as in this text.