Monday, October 29, 2012 — Week of Proper 25, Year 2
James Hannington and his Companions, Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, Martyrs, 1885
[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 991)
Psalms 41, 52 (morning) 44 (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 19:4-17 found in the Apocrypha; also calledSirach
There is an inner reality that is safe, at peace, and always one with God, regardless of the outer circumstances.
When speaking of our personal lives, we describe this as our inner union with God, which is our true self, the person God has created us to be. At the core of our being, we are always and have always been one with God — that is our true self. Because we experience ourselves as being threatened, we become fearful and reactive. We create an adaptive self, a false self. The false self is attached to our exaggerated needs for security, affection/esteem, and power/control. Most of us get pretty dysfunctional trying to secure on our own terms what God gives us at our deepest being — perfect security, unqualified love, divine power.
John writes of this symbolic territory in his Revelation. He is speaking to a community rather than to an individual. At the core of the community, the church, there is the temple and the altar — the union between God and God’s people. At that center, we are always one with God and the heavenly hosts who worship and praise God continually. The core is always connected and secure. Though the outer realities of political, social and economic well-being may be attacked, crumbling and chaotic, the center holds forever. The reign of evil and destruction — the reign of empire — is merely temporary, it is passing away.
Our call is to stand as witnesses during the passing period. John gives us a symbolic picture of that, using numbers. The period of evil is always incomplete and broken — forty-two months = 1,260 days = three and one-half years = half of seven. Seven is the symbol of perfection — the sum of three [the spiritual order] and four [the created order]. So half of seven, the period of evil, is incomplete and broken. Six is one less than seven — imperfection, incompleteness. The symbolic numbers associated with evil and empire are always incomplete, imperfect and broken.
John gives us the image of two witnesses, who like Jesus (and like the community) are both conquered and victorious. We are God’s witnesses. We are a community of priests and kings, two olive trees. As part of our memory and heritage, we know the two great prophet-witnesses Moses (who commanded the plagues) and Elijah (who shut up the sky). We join their struggle against the empire.
We are in conflict with the values of the empire — the lure of wealth and luxury and greed, the abuse of power and its inevitable violence. But our weapons are always the weapons of the Word. Our weapon, John says, is the “testimony.” (In Greek the word “witness/testimony” is “martus” — the same root as “martyr.”)
So we live in the conflict between empire and community. The witnesses may appear to be defeated, but their apparent defeat is only temporary. God always intervenes on behalf of truth. Resurrection happens. “The breath of life from God” reanimates; the Spirit breathes new life.
John is setting the scene for the announcement of God’s reign. God reigns now. The internal victory is ever present. Yet in the conflict of our world, the victory is anticipatory, partial, and surely coming. We are victorious now, at one with God; we are struggling now, giving witness to the evil of this passing oppression. Like Jesus the Lamb, we are both conquered and victorious.
John is describing every person, every community, every age. Here is the key to this part of his message: The experience of being conquered or assaulted by evil is always temporary and passing. The triumph of the Lamb is eternal and eternally present. Hold fast. Do not fear. The empire always crumbles and decays. True community, grounded in divine love, eternally triumphs. Embrace the triumphant vision and live by its light. Be compassion, love and justice in a world of greed, pride and injustice. The center holds forever.