What an education John gives us by these visions. He shows us how to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. Neither a despairing lament of helplessness nor a tune of blustering, bullying bravado. This song in the Book of Revelation murmurs with the serenity to accept the things we cannot change about this strange world. The melody pulses with the warm-blooded courage to change the things we can change about this strange world. But this song always embodies in Christ that counterpoint of wisdom that knows the difference between what we can change about the world and what we cannot change. A song worthy to learn and sing!
This moment in Revelation is echoed in the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien at the end of his trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. In that saga, there have been so many battles, won and lost. But at the end the heroes stand at the gates of hell itself, Mordor. The great final battle of Morannon is at hand.
In the movie that battle is not as great as it is in the book. In the book, Tolkien pours into his writing all the darkness of his experiences with the horror of World War I. All his horrific memory of the trenches, the fighting, the dying, the wounds worse than death…it crowds into his words with dark imagination. And yet… despite the War…or perhaps because of it…Tolkien, like St. John, knew something greater than the darkest horrors of this world.
Tolkien once wrote, “We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God…. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.” St. John could have written the same thing. And, in effect, he does in this passage today! So it begins.
You see, you cannot read the Book of Revelation and make any sense of it without the cross of Jesus Christ. Without the cross you get nothing but the wildly ridiculous scenarios painted by every Tom, Dick and Harry Endtimes Preacher. And they are legion!
God’s righteous vengeance on all the godless has already come over us. The blood of the godless has already flowed. God’s death sentence on the wicked has already been pronounced. God’s justice is fulfilled. It all took place on the Cross of Jesus Christ.
So in the midst of our crosses, because of The Cross, we know the dragon is being cast down. The Beasts, 1 & 2, are going down, as they have again and again in every age of this world. While the saints of God and of His Lamb, we are held secure. It is as Jesus says to Peter in the Gospel Reading today, “I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
But…living by such faith remains something that requires endurance in this world. So many trials, so many crosses…so many, many beasts. But as St. John never tires of reminding his readers, we have Jesus…We have His Body, the Church. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments! How inscrutable His ways!”
The visions are crying out: “Get a clue, people!” But not…not…not…as this Book is so often used. The clue is not: “Be afraid, be very afraid!” No! The visions declare that there is still joy even in the midst of devastating sorrows. Even in the midst of cataclysmic death there remains life. But…only by one Person. No, not some vaguely spiritual sort of God…but in the God who loved this devastated, cataclysmic world so much that He Himself took on flesh and became part of it in Jesus, lashing the destiny of earth to the destiny of His Son. And Jesus is all over this vision!