|Pen and Ink Reflections||
What value does the book of Revelation have for us, especially in the face of ecological crises? My guess is that most of us have not spent too much time on the Bible’s last book. Some people of course have, including those looking for a special secret code to life and history, and those puzzling out different timetables for Christ’s second coming. Such interpreters however typically have little concern for ecology, and some even welcome signs of environmental apocalypse. Faced by the strangeness of John the Divine’s visions, we may therefore be tempted to dispense with the book altogether. Yet that would be a mistake. For, as this morning’s reading (ch.12 vv. 1-9 & 13-17a) illustrates, truth and light can be received in the strangest places…
I want to begin by inviting you to look up - Look – here! at this trinity of angels, symbolising Courage, Compassion and Joy. Jyllie Jackson, the artist who with her team created them, saw these as qualities particularly embodied – incarnated indeed – here in our community at Pitt St Uniting Church. Those of us who worship here regularly – can we see ourselves I wonder? It is hard sometimes to see ourselves as others see us! And those of you visiting here today – I wonder what aspects of yourselves you see here in our angels? For they are icons of incarnation...
Courage - Compassion – Joy: these are the name of the angels we have, above us, this evening. Courage – Compassion – Joy: gifts of grace which our church community, with others, seeks to share at World Pride here in Sydney next year, and at all times. For Courage – Compassion – Joy: which of these, I wonder, do each of us need at this time, for ourselves, or for others? May these gifts truly enrich us, for they take us to the heart of our celebrations this evening: the very presence of God in humanity, in human birthing. As such, they are pointers to the deepest reality of our lives. As we see the angels above us, see and share light among us, and, above all, see and share bread and wine – the symbols of divine humanity in us – so may we know God’s extraordinary Love, within and beyond us. For the various elements of our Christmas celebration proclaim that, as above, so below and all around, between, and in all possible dimensions, the God of Love is born among us. Tonight, in the great Christian narrative, is the hinge of history, the heart of meaning, and the hallowing of human being. Let me briefly touch on three elements. For the Christian Christmas is a truly extra-ordinary happening, and a profound embodying, which is also ‘not quite nice’…
So, angels are coming. How will we greet them? At once, perhaps we start to ponder: but what are we greeting? And are there such things as angels anyway? Modernity’s functional materialism has so much to answer for! From a Reformed Christian perspective today it is also sometimes hard to engage. For whilst the classic Reformed theologians were quite clear that angels are to be taken very seriously, as they appear in so many places in the Bible. Yet later thinkers have found less value. In some quarters of liberal and progressive Protestantism they almost became erased: rejected with supposedly passé doctrines like the virgin birth, miracles and even major articles of the historic creeds. Ironically, as liberal Protestantism declined, other faith constructions began to thrive, not least New Age spiritualities with their extraordinary mix of angelic and other speculations. Did demythologising thereby open the door to old heresies? - as well as to a loss of divine wonder in the secular world? Certainly, as Les Murray pondered in his poem ‘The Barranong Angel Case’, which we heard read earlier, do we have the capacity to see and receive the angels of Christian tradition today?
.A number of years ago, Penny and I were exploring the possibility of employment with a wonderful pioneering female bishop. In the course of her hospitality she introduced us to a fellow, nearby, bishop in case he also had a parish to offer us to work in. He however took one brief look at us, and, at once, abruptly asked ‘do you believe in the Resurrection?’ It was said in a very demanding, and almost accusatory, tone. Taken aback though we were, we actually responded very well, saying together, and in a somewhat incredulous tone, ‘why yes, of course!’ The bishop was nonetheless not at all impressed and exited immediately. For, of course, his question was not one to which he really expected an answer, or at least one in which he was actually interested. Like the notorious enquiry ‘when did you stop hitting your wife?’, it was a deliberately loaded question, containing its own assumptions. Like the Sadducees’ question to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, it was also not really about resurrection at all. How often, I wonder, are our own questions like that too? When we talk in faith spaces, how much do our own interests intrude? How do we keep open to the mystery of resurrection?...