Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” So the first angel went and poured his bowl on the earth, and a foul and painful sore came on those who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped its image. The second angel poured his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing in the sea died. The third angel poured his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters say, “You are just, O Holy One, who are and were, for you have judged these things; because they shed the blood of saints and prophets, you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” And I heard the altar respond, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just!” Revelation 16:1-7
Well, isn’t that a cheery passage of hope for a pandemic? “Yea, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are thy judgments!” Revelation was written in a time when there was great stress. Traditional interpretations have said it was a church being persecuted by the evil Roman emperor. But recent documents (1990’s) have revealed that the emperor was not only lenient toward the church, but perhaps did nothing at all to prevent the church from doing what it does. Of course, this totally confuses scholars who have deduced that only great persecution could bring forth such imagery as we have in Revelation. But perhaps the emperor did more to persecute the church…by leaving it alone. Without an enemy attacking the church from without, our very humanity could have destroyed it from within.
We’re in Massachusetts and in a county terribly more populous than Craven and with a terribly higher number of COVID 19 cases. Strict guidelines have now turned the pandemic numbers around here while back home in NC our numbers are growing. Interestingly, my son Ben keeps referring to this as an “apocalypse.” While I don’t see oceans turning to blood, I do see humans doing inhumane things to other humans. I see an increasing number of people who don’t care, who rationalize this, and who don’t think we need to do anything about it. Perhaps the “evil” Roman emperor had a great idea; leave us alone and let us destroy ourselves.
So the purpose of faith then becomes something that keeps us together in peace. I’m now thinking that the persecution of Revelation was an economic one. And if you think that’s nothing, look at what “economy” is doing to us now! The economic implications of today will last far into the future. No one really seems to want to believe this. Ben and I went to the store. He goes once every ten days. We came home, he cleaned every place the grocery bags touched and then told me to change clothes. I COULD have told him that wasn’t necessary. I COULD have quoted statistics. I COULD have refused because it was my right to wear what I wanted to wear. I am his father and I know best. But do you know what I did? I changed clothes. And why? Because I love my son. I wonder what the country would look like if we took more of that attitude into our collective hearts?
No matter what the emperor did to the church, it didn’t work. It was bad for a while. But I think, in the end, it wasn’t the church rising up in rebellion, it was the church rising up in love that moved us beyond apocalyptic times. Forgive me for thinking this, but perhaps we could do the same?
Be thou my vision O Lord of my heart, Naught be all else to me save that thou art Thou my best thought, by day or by night: waking or sleeping, thy presence my light. Amen.
Pastor Rick Moser