Reflection: The End
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
We are living into the Easter season, and the question that faces us is, how do we live in response to the resurrection?
As we know, Christ rose in triumph after a humiliating betrayal and execution. When we say Christ has triumphed, what does that mean?
Too often broken people exploit their faith to justify violence. Crusaders, Nazis, the KKK, and various White nationalist militia claim Christianity as the basis for untold atrocities against Muslims, Jews, Blacks, and others. Anti-Semites use Christ’s crucifixion as justification for their virulent and horrifying hatred against Jews—though they are just as quick to use the defense of Israel as an excuse to hate Muslims, from as long ago as the Crusades to now. Muslims strike back, most recently against Christians celebrating Easter mass in Sri Lanka. Sikhs get caught in the cross-fire as they have been mistaken for Muslims. Jews stay ever-vigilant, to the point of restricting the human rights of Palestinians living in Israel. Is this the way to defend one’s faith?
This Sunday’s lectionary passages (Acts 9:1-20, Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, and John 21:1-19) give us guidance on how to live as people of the Resurrection. In the Acts story, an early Christian is directed to receive Saul, a Jew who was known to persecute followers of Jesus. Even though this Christian, Ananias, objects due to Saul’s violence against Jesus’ followers, Ananias is told to receive, bless, and care for this persecutor. His ministry heals Saul, who as Paul becomes one of the greatest evangelists for Jesus Christ. Psalm 30 reminds us how we are prone to stand on our own in good times, but we turn to God in our distress; as God answers our prayers, we are to praise God and witness to God’s mercy. In the Gospel according to John,, when the risen Christ appears to his disciples, he still bears the wounds of the crucifixion, but he does not direct them to wreak vengeance. Instead, Christ tells Simon Peter that if he loves him, Peter is to care for Christ’s lambs.
And in Revelation, multitudes of angels, elders, and all creatures sing resounding praises to Jesus Christ as the lamb. Now the book of Revelation is perhaps the most intriguing and misunderstood book in the Bible, and it has been interpreted as countless sects, cults, and others attempt to foretell the end of the world, or to justify militaristic “evangelism,” since Revelation uses military imagery in the vision of Christ’s ultimate triumph.
I may never come close to understanding the Book of Revelation, but I have been inspired by the work of New Testament scholar Barbara Rossing. She wrote a book on Revelation with the sensationalist title “The Rapture Exposed” and developed a Bible study for the Horizons series from Presbyterian Women. Rather than get caught up in the sensationalist imagery, Rev. Dr. Rossing lifts up the unique characteristic of Revelation: that the ultimate hero, the only one worthy of all of heaven’s worship, is a little lamb still bearing the marks of crucifixion.
Why would God lift up such a vulnerable image to represent the King of our worship? For the same reason that Jesus came not as a great military commander, but as a humble teacher, willing to give up his life for the sake of others, and who teaches us to forgive and show compassion beyond reason or our human sense of justice. The only way to break the cycle of violence is to refuse to respond to violence with violence, and the only way to lead as a Christian is to be servant of others, especially the outcast and oppressed in our society.
As followers of Christ, even when we are oppressed, we must find ways to transcend the violence of the world, and answer hurt with mercy. We are forgiven as we forgive others, in gratitude for the merciful judgment of Christ, who loves us so much as to lay down his life for our sake.
I am grateful for those who have given us living examples of peace and forgiveness in response to violence, be they world leaders such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela, or individual people of faith such as the survivors of the Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, SC; the Amish community that showed compassion to the family of their children’s killer in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania; and the people of Billings, Montana, showing solidarity with their Jewish neighbors. Recently, people of all faiths visit faith communities under attack, including Muslims protecting their Christian neighbors in Egypt; Jews reaching out to Muslims after the attack on the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand; and we who are invited to attend next week’s service at Congregation Chabad of Poway, including the Muslim members of the Escondido mosque who suffered from arson and yet now express support for their Jewish cousins. I remember Nancy Moore and the session of Shepherd of the Valley, who volunteered their support and protection for a local mosque after anti-Muslim threats rose up after the San Bernardino shooting in 2015. So we all can show concern and care, as Christ directs us.
Now despair may take us over, and we may ask that if these brave souls resisted violence, why do we continue to suffer from so much hatred? This may be a similar despair that tempted Jesus’ friends when he was taken to be crucified. And yet, Jesus stopped Peter from doing violence, and showed forgiveness even on the cross. We are in such a liminal time, when we have the choice to respond to violence or any kind of hurt with revenge, or with mercy. Christ calls us to do the latter.
So even in the face of tragedy and betrayal, may we truly celebrate the risen Christ by living as agents of mercy and forgiveness and peace, as Christ teaches us.
To the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!