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.[Revelation 1:4b-5 NRSV]
Grace to you and peace…
As I read the assigned scripture lessons for this upcoming Christ the King Sunday, my eyes kept going back to the five words above from Revelation.
I focused on them with the intensity of a Lectio Divina (sacred reading), repeating them and concentrating in hopes, perhaps, that God would reveal something to me that I hadn’t seen in those words before.
Most regular church goers are familiar with those words on some level. Many preachers open their sermons with that greeting.
A dozen of the New Testament letters open with those words. And why not? It was a typical way to begin a letter in biblical times; just as today we begin letters with, “Dear so-and-so,” and end with, “sincerely yours.” Of course, with email and text messages that tradition appears to be dying.
I am puzzled as to why the words leaped off the page to me in such a surprising way. Maybe it was because we certainly don’t experience much grace or peace in our toxic society today.
It has become increasingly more difficult for me to watch the evening news without feeling my blood boil just a bit. I have totally sworn off the political shows, at least temporarily. And I find myself spending less and less time on the social media sites. I would have dropped Facebook – or is it Meta? – altogether, were it not for the fact that I use it as a way to drive traffic to this blog.
Grace to you and peace…
The book of Revelation, where we read these words this week, stands in stark contrast to all others in the New Testament. It is, without a doubt, the most misunderstood book of the Bible. With all its images of angels, trumpets, earthquakes, beasts, dragons, and bottomless pits, it has provided a wealth of material to Hollywood and fiction writers; not to mention religious extremists, who have led many unwittingly into harmful, dangerous, and violent situations that have ended badly.
And yet, despite all its shocking imagery, it is a book of hope.
At the time Revelation was written, grace and peace were in as short supply as we understand them to be today. Christians were being persecuted. Christianity, as you may know, was an illegal religion in the early first century. That’s why John, the author of Revelation, was in exile on Patmos.
This book was written to give those Christians hope in the face of relentless assaults on a people whose only crime was that they pledged allegiance not to the emperor, but to Jesus as Lord.
We are living in a social climate today that at best minimally reflects that which the church represents, and at worst goes against everything the church represents. Hate seems stronger than love. Conflict is more prevalent than peace. Lies win out over truth. Pain often overshadows happiness.
I’m concerned that, as Christians, both individually and corporately, we are less inclined to take a stand that will go against the norms of contemporary society. Instead, we choose conformity over transformation.
But our God is not an absent God who exists beyond us and with no interest in us. God is not aloof or uninvolved. Therefore, our message and our witness as people of faith should be that God is active in the world.
We can’t compartmentalize our faith and separate it from the life we live outside of our church walls. Just as Revelation issued a challenge to the Roman Empire, the church must offer a challenge to the world today.
We cannot remain comfortable within our walls as long as people are going hungry elsewhere.
We cannot remain relaxed within our isolated shelter as long as crime and violence rule the streets.
We cannot remain unaware of the injustice around us as long as people are being singled out for the color of their skin, the accent with which they speak, or the person they choose to love.
The end of the church year offers us yet another opportunity to assess our values as Christians and evaluate how we function in our society as the people of God.
Different centuries, different cultural conflicts, yet the same mission: to announce the Lordship of Christ, not with criticism and condemnation, but with grace and peace.
Imagine what would be if we replaced competition with co-operation with our neighbors, in our schools, in the workplace, or the political arena?
What if we spoke only words of forgiveness and encouragement to our families despite the negative comments or spiteful deeds?
We who identify as the Church are called to engage in humble service to others. It is challenging, I know. But no less challenging than Jesus’ journey to the Cross!
Nevertheless, we are invited. And that invitation begins with the words:
Grace to you and peace…
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