Archive for Revelation

Ma Nishtana – What has changed?

Peter's Vision, c.1658-59 Rembrandt Graphische Sammlung, Munich

The Vision of St. Peter, c.1658-59
Graphische Sammlung, Munich


The next day, as they were on their journey and coming near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.  And he became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”  And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”  This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Acts 10:9-23


There’s more to school than learning your lessons. Half of the work of school is figuring out school, and consciously or unconsciously we all figure out how the system works. If the teacher says it twice, it’s on the test. If you’re asked a question in Sunday School (Formation!) and you don’t know the answer, try “Because he loves us.” The whole enterprise is one of being ready when you are questioned.

Sometimes, to our great relief, the quizzing can simple and transactional (“What is the capital of Nebraska?”), and at other times it’s complicated (“What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”). In that space before you answer, other questions come to mind: Does the questioner want to know your opinion? Is there a single right answer? Is the question that’s been spoken actually a different question in disguise? What are you really asking? Why are you asking? And if you’re asked something by the all-knowing Deity, then it can really mess with your head.

The Bible is full of stories with uncomfortable questions. Sometimes there’s no answer but to hand the question back to the one who asks:

“Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, thou knowest.” Ezekiel 37: 1-14

 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Revelation 7

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  John 21: 15-19

People of faith live with questions and search for answers. Most of us expect that someday God will hold us accountable, or at the very least have a serious discussion with us about our spiritual lives. So we read, we think, we discuss, we pray. Reciting our lessons and recounting our history helps us review what we’ve been taught and pass on that knowledge.

Ma nishtana? How is this night different from all other nights?

But what if God wants to teach us something new? How are we to know if we’re to stand firm and recite what we’ve been taught, or stop and open our minds? Lord, lead us not into temptation!

Peter finds himself in this confusing situation during his rooftop vision. He’s given a directive “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” that he takes as a test and a temptation, and so he gives the answer he’s been taught. He speaks the truth he knows.

And that’s when God gives him something new. “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”  It’s new, but it’s not clear. It’s perplexing. Peter will have to ponder a while. And that’s when Cornelius’ men show up at the gate and the Spirit returns to tell Peter to accompany them.    

It turns out that the lesson is not actually about food or killing or keeping kosher. It’s about people and about grace. “God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”  God leads Peter, not into temptation, but to a corner and tells him to take the turn.

Scary stuff. It’s hard to know even what kind of test we’re taking, much less what the answer is. Who’s asking? Why are they asking? Is this a trap? If Peter was perplexed and pondering then I suppose we should expect to be too. But somehow we have to be open, ready to be surprised. 

Children of God

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.

Luke 10:17-21


The seventy were giddy with excitement. They had experienced power and they had done great work. They knew the source of that power:  “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” They were charged up, ready to go again–you can practically hear them exclaiming, “Whoa! It was awesome!” And it must have made Jesus smile.

He gives them a caution, redirecting their joy to its true source in saving grace, but that doesn’t erase the pleasure he surely feels. Later that same hour, he rejoices in God’s presence that these openhearted seventy have taken it in whole.

I love reading about that moment when Jesus was happy. He spent so much time trying to get the message across to people who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, listen or understand that the kingdom had come near. Saying the same thing over and over, coming up with so many parables, explaining the scriptures, sparring with skeptics–just imagining the effort is exhausting.

But this day is different. God gave them an opportunity, and people grasped a revelation. Like excited children they returned with joy, and Jesus, with tender affection, rejoices and gives thanks.

Twelve gates to the city

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 

Revelation 21: 9-13



I first learned about Clara Ward from Horace Clarence Boyer, who came to my church one Trinity Sunday for a workshop and concert. Ward composed what is probably my favorite of all gospel hymns, “How I Got Over.”



"Oberfallenberg 11" by böhringer friedrich - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

“Oberfallenberg 11” by böhringer friedrich – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons


What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us…  (Acts 17: 23-27)


I’ve been away for a while, and I’m feeling a bit rusty, but I have a small thought to share. Just some impressions really–not even a thought.

I read the lectionary passages early this morning as I was sitting looking out at my grey, pre-sun backyard, waiting for the birds and chipmunks to stir and come looking for food at the feeder outside my window. And as I looked, I thought about the God who made the world and all the nations “in the hope that they might feel after him and find him.”

What does it mean to “feel after God?” Do we reach out with mind and spirit–as if shuffling in a mist with hands outstretched–stepping into the cloud of unknowing, trusting we will touch or be touched by the Divine? Is he waiting somewhere, or does he move in the mist to lead us on a chase? And I wonder, when we find him, will we trust what we feel? Will we recognize him by what we feel?

I am not a trusting soul. I am wary. And this shuffling in the mist could all be very frustrating were it not for the words, “in the hope that they might feel after him and find him.”

I think of God hoping to be found. (“Come on, reach for me.”) The Lord of heaven and earth, and yet not far from each one of us….


The song that only the 144,000 could learn

I’ve been reading in the book of Revelation this week–a fitting preparation for All Saints on Saturday and an interesting parallel to a fantasy trilogy I also happen to be reading. All those end-of-the-age narratives are swirling in my mind and trying to find a way to settle into sense. I ponder. I wonder. Why must truth be hidden for a time? What is the key that will unlock the mystery? How deep is the deception? How is authority given to the agents of Good and Evil? What does that authority mean? If power is no indication of the right, then how can reason or wisdom discern the truth? Is there any path from reason to wisdom, or is it a leap?

I wonder why cities and wealthy merchants and traders are so important in the story–the selling of luxury goods and human souls. I’m struck by all the imagery of water and wine and blood–the great wine press of the wrath of God, floods of destruction, intoxicating passion, poison forced down the throat, and then the fountain of the water of life, given without payment.

It’s a mighty narrative. Most of the time we hardly know what to do with it, but we can’t let it go. Everybody has a different way of dealing with the story and the imagery, because even if you don’t interpret them, you have deal with their existence. Something to think about.

So here’s a bit of imagery for you. Elvis sing “I, John” which talks about the 144,000–those who stand with the Lamb on Mt.Zion “redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are spotless.” “and they sing a new song…No one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the earth.” (Rev. 14) I found the paintings that were chosen to illustrate the song quite extraordinary. They’re not the pictures I grew up with, but they’re a window into other minds, and I count that as a good thing.


Feast day of St. Luke


St. Luke window
University of Virginia chapel

Detail from St. Luke window
University of Virginia chapel



One of the four evangelists, Luke is said to be the first icon painter and the artist who painted pictures of Mary and the infant Jesus.  His symbol is the ox, an image taken from the vision of the four living creatures who draw God’s chariot in Ezekiel 1 and Rev. 4: 6b-11. You can see a portrait of the Virgin Mary in his arms here, and the image of the ox. Luke was also a physician, and the caduceus appears on the right side of the window.

Son House – John the Revelator

When it comes to Delta blues, there is no singer who moves me like Son House. To my ears, no one can match the purity and intensity of his performance on tracks like “Death Letter,” “Grinnin’ in Your Face,” and “Empire State Express.” Like a lot of blues and gospel musicians, Son House had a complicated relationship with the church. His many occupations included time as a Baptist preacher, but ultimately he became a blues singer, playing the kind of music in the kinds of places of which the church did not approve. Still, his belief in God and his sense of a Judgement Day can be heard throughout his recordings. Here is his version of “John the Revelator,” a traditional call and response gospel song first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson.