Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Water and blood, tents and Temple

Read Revelation 7:9-17

The feast of tents - Sukkot - was one of the three yearly feast days that required the Jewish people to make a pilgrimage to the Temple of Jerusalem. There, they would build huts in memory of the forty years of wandering in the desert before they entered the promised land. There, they would take up the water from the well of Shilo'ach to wash the altar and the Temple precincts, remembering the water God made gush from the stone in the desert. There, they would process around the Temple, holding palms in their hands, calling on God's saving grace. Zachariah prophesied that in the days of the Messiah, people from all nations and lands would come to Jerusalem for the feast of Sukkot and rejoice in God's wondrous works.

The passage we read today in the Book of Revelation echoes this imagery. In John's visionary dream, Zachariah's prophecy has come true: people of all nations, races and languages surround the Temple, holding palms in their hands. They no longer ask for saving grace, but rather praise the God for the salvation they have already received.

Who are they? A voice reveals that this is the assembly of the martyrs who died because of their faith in Jesus. It is important to remember that the Book of Revelation was written at a time when Christians were being persecuted by the Roman empire. All were supposed to adore the emperor as a god, but the members of the young Church refused to do so. This refusal often meant death. But by dying with Jesus, they find new life. In his blood, they are washed clean. (Only in a dream such as this can blood whiten soiled clothes!)

John takes up the images of psalms 23 and 121, psalms of pilgrimage, to sing of God's care for his people even as they journey, not through a desert, but through death itself, striving for the promised land we know as heaven. “They will no longer hunger, they will no longer thirst, the sun will not strike them down, God will shelter them in his own tent.”  They no longer have to build their own huts, they can abide in God's own dwelling!

A final, powerful image follows: “The Lamb will be their shepherd and lead them to the waters of the springs of life.” This was a powerful message of hope and comfort for those believers being persecuted for their faith. They realized that they were living what the Jewish people had lived in the desert, but in a manner that was even more radical. The God who had been faithful in the past would once again be faithful. Beyond all pain and trial, there is a promise given in Jesus Christ that gives courage and hope: “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes.”

This promise still gives hope to all of Christ's followers today.

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