The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. — Revelation 1:1-8
I have to confess that when I see Revelation pop up on the reading list for the day I usually have a sinking feeling in my stomach. There’s a lot in that book that I have trouble reading, but there are parts that are so comforting that it is no wonder they are included in some of our liturgies, notably the burial service. When it comes to part of this passage, it starts one of my most favorite hymns playing in my head. Even in the midst of Christmas, I am taken back to Advent and the lyrics of Charles Wesley, well, lyrics by John Chennick that Wesley modified only to have that modification modified further by Martin Madan. The two verses read:
Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.
Every eye shall now behold him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at nought and sold him,
pierced, and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see. *
I’d say Chennick/Wesley/Madan had a pretty good handle on the message of verses 7-8 of the passage from Revelation. The image is of the second coming of Christ, something that fits well in the expectation of the Advent season but which seems a bit jarring when introduced in the liturgical season that traditionally celebrates the first coming. It’s like a jump from cradle to re-appearance, skipping over the whole human life, death, resurrection and ascension. It jars, but it also compresses a lot of theology (and a whole lotta years) in a few brief stanzas.
Maybe it isn’t so far fetched, though. From the moment we are born we begin to die, whether we face a death by violence as Jesus did or whether we pass in our own beds in the middle of the night. As Christians we are often reminded that heaven is our ultimate goal, and that Jesus was crucified as an atonement for our sins so that we might attain heaven when our journey on earth is done. His return was foretold, but, as he said himself, God alone knew (literally!) when that would be. Still, we keep looking.
I’m not an apocalypticist. I’m more interested in the here and now than the hereafter, although as I age I find myself thinking a bit more about the hereafter than I have at any other point in my life. It’s normal, I think, to do that as people get older and the end gets closer. Still, I wonder what I would see if Jesus came back during my lifetime. Would it be as John saw it? As Chenneck and Wesley and Madan did? The first time he came there was quiet fanfare — angels singing, a star shining, kings kneeling — or so we conflate all the stories to come up with the annual Christmas/Epiphany pageant our kids take part in. It seems the second time it will be a lot more pyrotechnic, in a manner of speaking. The thing is, though, that those who were responsible for his death on earth will see what it was they did and to whom. All of us will see it, and, I think, we will all react with shock and awe — not the way we normally think of it, but rather it will be a sudden overpowering without a shot being fired, bomb being dropped or atrocity being committed. We shall see the Messiah coming in all his glory, and the sight will be more than any painting or words could describe.
Yea, amen! let all adore thee,
high on thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory;
claim the kingdom for thine own:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.
* Lyrics from the Oremus Hymnal .
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