Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The mystery of faith (Revelation 1)

 John's magnificent vision on the island of Patmos was a revelation given him by God, with whom he enjoyed so intimate a relationship as to be granted the privilege of seeing the realm of eternity which transcends time and the realm of glory which transcends space.

"Behold, he is coming with the clouds" (Revelation 1:7) is not the pipe dream or escapist fantasy which many pop culture “Christian” authors have made it out to be. It is that part of "the mystery of faith" which makes our faith complete. It is a reminder that we have more to look forward to in the next world than we can possibly comprehend in this world. At the same time, it calls us to live in this world as we will live in the next, "in lives of holiness and godliness" (2 Peter 3:11), participating even now in the ongoing fulfillment of the eschatological kingdom toward which all of history, in Christ, is moving. The certainty that Christ is coming again keeps us accountable, ever aware of the fact that, at any moment, Christ our Judge will appear and we will stand before him to give an accounting for all the thoughts, motives and actions which have defined our lives in this world.

But this reality does not inspire fear in the heart of believers, whose lives are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into the image and likeness of God. Rather, Jesus' promise, "I am coming soon" (Revelation 22:7, 12) is the promise of vindication and eternal rest for those who, in the face of suffering and persecution, persevere to the end. It is a promise of comfort for the living and of resurrection for those who have "fallen asleep" in Christ.

"The promise of his coming" is the promise that brings the church together as a covenant community. The expectation of seeing our Lord face to face brings us together for worship every Lord's Day. It is a promise that is made real in the celebration of the Eucharist. For in every observance of this blessed sacrament, the true meaning of John's vision is broken and poured out before our very eyes. Christ is present in a real, yet mysterious, way. Heaven and earth become one. New Jerusalem shines in all its splendor as its citizens celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).

"The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking," as Paul reminds us, "but of righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). Yet it is precisely through the outward act of eating and drinking that we experience the kingdom mysteriously present in our midst. In partaking of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we are participating in the reality beyond the symbols. Paradoxically, we consume outwardly the body and blood of Christ while, at the same time, we are being inwardly consumed into the reality that is Christ himself: the mystery of his death, resurrection and coming again. The whole of this mystery is laid forth visibly, yet mysteriously, in the bread and the cup. Through his broken body and shed blood, our mortality is being consumed into his immortality. His presence is made real in our midst as we gather in his name around his table and made real in the world around us as we outwardly manifest it through "lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God" (2 Peter 3:11b-12a).

To contemplate this mystery is to be consumed by it; to surrender our selfish desire to understand that which is too high even to enter our feeble human minds. In seeking to draw the mystery into ourselves, we will find ourselves being drawn into the mystery. Therein, we begin to embrace Jesus’ most comforting promise, “And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:3).

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

“Even so. Come, Lord Jesus!”

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