Now Is The Time Lent Study

Timeout - Reflections - 4-13-16

 Texts for Sunday April 17, 2016
 4th Sunday of Easter

 Acts 9:36-43
 Psalm 23
 Revelation 7:9-17
 John 10:22-30

 The Revelation texts that are appointed in the lectionary for the Easter season skip like a stone across the surface of a lake.  In other words, we miss a lot of real estate as we skip from one week to the next.

To get from last Sunday’s Revelation text of worship before God’s throne to this week’s text of worship before God’s throne, the reader must wade through a lot of defeat, death, and destruction.  Six seals open; catastrophic violence is unleashed (including the infamous 4 horsemen of the apocalypse).

Remember that apocalyptic literature is written to encourage those who are reading it. Revelation’s audience was facing the marginalization  – social, economic, religious – and persecution of people who reject the imperial Roman system. This book is written for those in that present time; it is not a vision of future suffering. Also remember that it is written from the perspective of “heaven” not “earth”. From “heaven” (or, better, “from around the throne”) you can see how all the pieces fall together. Remember that the Lion is actually the Lamb that was slain…. which changes everything; strength through weakness, life through death. This gives meaning to current suffering by putting it into the context of the Big Picture. The period of suffering is but moment in the grand scheme of things. Chaos is being abolished and a new creation is being born.  “Already; but not yet.”  

This doesn’t mean we need to grin and bear it. For example, along with those who were/are slaughtered for the word of God (see seal 5) we cry out “How long?”. God’s people have asked that question for centuries (read the psalms!). The people from John’s congregation are asking “how long?”; we continue to ask “how long?”

So, just before we arrive at the point of today’s text, we have experienced the opening of six seals ... lots of violence. The fingernail is under the seventh seal…. drum roll… 

OK. Not breaking the seal. John has called a timeout. Barbara Rossing calls this break in the action “an amazing and hope-filled surprise: a ‘salvation interlude’, assuring God's people they are protected”. 

First, in the verses right before today’s text, 144,000 faithful servants of God from every tribe of Israel are “sealed” placing God’s seal on their forehead (think baptism). God has not forgotten God’s people. By their seal they are prepared to move out and be God’s people in the world. By our seal, we are prepared to move out and be God’s people in the world.

Then we get to the view from heaven: worship around the throne (and our text). A multitude that no one can count, from every nation and peoples, dressed in white, waving palms, stand around the throne worshiping.  The seals have unleashed horrible things, but countless people…. all people? …. stand before the throne with our friends the angels, the elders, and the 4 living creatures (actually, the last two groups fall down before the throne to worship). One of the elders asks, then answers, “who are these people dressed in white?” They are the people who are, as is the Lamb, conquering through death.

Imagine being in John’s congregation. It is probably a very small group, especially compared to a multitude that is uncountable. Imagine hearing that more people than you can count have made it through persecution; the persecuted stand before God’s throne. This small group is a part of a very large group that exists across all time and all places. 

The final verses assure them of God’s sheltering care (vs. 15-17). The Lamb becomes a shepherd. And will care for them. The final verses also assure us of God’s continued sheltering care for us.

Check out the G.I.F.T. post for this Sunday, April 17, for more ways to reflect on these texts. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts. 
Please use the comment section below (all the way down past the related posts).

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245