Saturday, October 28, 2006
Like probably many or most of you, I struggle with John's visions of Apocalypse. Sometimes John himself probably struggles to relate what he is seeing and touching and hearing and even (as here) tasting. He and we are trying to make sense out of extreme sensory perceptions. He has continual questions and his assumptions are, as often as not, incorrect.
The essential problem of the Revelation is stated by N.T. Wright:
"The puzzle of apocalyptic, for any serious Christian, any thoughtful reader of the New Testament, is whether, and if so how, ‘apocalyptic’ can be rescued from the ‘Left Behind’ school of thought, whose adherents anticipate the ‘Rapture’ in which they will be snatched up to heaven, leaving this world behind once and for all. "
And so, with thoughtfulness, we come to this passage. The figure descending to span earth and sea is called an angel but everything about him cries out that he is the "Angel of the Lord", i.e. a theophany, a visualization of the unseeable God. He is wrapped in a cloud evoking the cloud-presence of God throughout the Exodus. He rumbles with thunders that are judgment. The rainbow, sign of God's eternal mercy, is around him. And he offers a small scroll to John, and tells him to do something astonishing: take it and eat it.
And what the angel told John would occur, did in fact occur: the scroll was sweet as honey in his mouth, but bitter in his stomach. And he was commanded to go on a mission, to prophesy to more "peoples, nations, languages, kings."
Is it not at times like that for us when we "share the food and drink of new and unending life"? We taste forgiveness, and it is a sweet and cooling rush, like the tang of raw honey on the tongue. But we are more than forgiven; when the Word is in us, it becomes part of us in ways that correspond to how the Eucharist becomes part of our physical being. But we don't camp at the banquet table; we have to go out into places where we are afraid that we may not be welcome. We may feel things in our guts that are very unpleasant, if we make the mission personal. We are part of the message of God's compassion, but we are also part of the message of God's judgment. We will receive forgiveness, but our dross will be consumed in fire. If we look honestly at the broad context of the message, it isn't all sweet--but it is all True.