I enjoy a good book. My introduction to reading happened in the fifth grade when my teacher, Mr. Henderson, decided to read JRR Tolkien’s book The Hobbit to the class. I was instantly captivated by the world Tolkien had created. I got my own copy of the book and finished it ahead of the class. I believe I finished the first book of The Lord of the Rings at the same time the class finished The Hobbit.
Since that time I’ve enjoyed a steady diet of fantasy, science fiction, thriller and espionage books. I’ve even read a little bit of horror, but found it wasn’t to my liking. I recall reading Stephen King’s book Misery in high school and reaching a point where I couldn’t pick the book up for about two weeks because I was terrified of what might happen next. Which should tell you something about King’s ability to evoke emotion in his readers. Books can do that to us. Whether we are escaping into a fictional world that an author has created or reading a non-fiction account of world events. We are transported away, our minds are opened and we are richer for the experience. While my pleasure reading has slowed down over the past few years it is still nice to curl up in a comfortable chair and read a good book.
There is always a sense of disappointment when I get to the end of a particularly satisfying book. There is a desire for more, to learn more about the characters or perhaps to go on another adventure with them. I imagine that endings must be tricky for author’s to write. There is a need to get things just right, to satisfy the reader, but also to perhaps leave things on a bit of a cliff-hanger. Every genre is different, but how a book ends matters.
There are some individuals who before starting a new book will read the final chapter or the last page. They want to know how things end before they begin. Now, I’m not one of those people so I don’t know what the motivation for this decision is. But if I had to hazard a guess I would say that perhaps they want to know if the journey of reading several hundred pages will be worth it.
This morning we heard read to us the final verses of the Bible. Today we got to the end of this book. Now, from Sunday to Sunday we don’t read the Bible cover to cover. Instead, we allow the lectionary to guide us through the church year and we hear Bible passages that are appropriate. At the end of three years, if we read all four lectionary passages each week we will have read through most of the Bible. Not all of it, but a lot of it.
So here we are at the end. It’s an interesting ending is it not? My guess is that many people have a sense of how the Bible ends, but may not have read to the last verse of Revelation. The Bible is an interesting book. It is holy scripture, it can also be considered from a literary point of view. Finally, the Bible itself is comprised of poetry, history, non-fiction, and personal correspondence. Many of these genres of writing are found in any of the books which we find within the Bible. Revelation is a letter from John to seven churches in Asia Minor. That places Revelation as an item of personal correspondence. However, within Revelation we find poetry and visions included.
When we think about the end of the Bible I believe most people think about the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. They recognize that there is a promise for Jesus to come again, but they don’t read John’s letter which describes much of what we think about Christ’s return. In short, most of us stop at the gospels and perhaps don’t get too much further.
So how does Revelation end?
It ends by reminding us of everything that has come before it, from Genesis right through to Christ’s death. We are reminded that God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. We are granted access to the tree of life which was barred from us in Genesis. We are invited to drink from the water of life, we are told that it is a free gift.
That Jesus died on the cross for our sake and that this is a free gift. We don’t have to do anything other than come and receive it. In receiving it we are forever changed and welcomed into the kingdom of God.
Finally, we are told that Jesus is coming. John writes the words, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” In Greek the word Amen is pronounced Amen and it means truly or let it be so.
Finally, John’s final words in Revelation are a benediction, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.” John leaves his readers with a blessing from God. Just as we finish worship each Sunday with a Benediction, that is a word from God for us. A blessing from God as we go on our way.
John’s benediction tells us that we are a community of believers. That we all trust in God and that we follow in the way of Jesus Christ. In God we find our unity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Christian unity is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”
By drinking of the water of life we are invited to participate in Christian unity. We live together as a fellowship of Christ. We care for one another and we care for the world in the way that Jesus demonstrated. In recent weeks I have been thinking and praying about what it means to be a follower of Christ versus to be a Christian.
That may sound like a funny thing to say, especially coming from the minister. However, I wonder if we get so caught up in proper doctrine, creeds and committee’s that we lose sight of something else. Now, don’t get me wrong, the creeds, doctrine and confessions of the Church are important. Some would argue that without those you can’t know what it means to be a Christian or a follower of Christ.
I suppose what I’m suggesting is that within our Christian unity I’m searching for something simpler. I’m interested in connecting with what Jesus was teaching and living. I’m curious about how those early Christians not only survived, but thrived in the face of mounting persecution.
These past weeks of consider the Book of Revelation and its message for us has put into focus the promise that we have in the Kingdom of God. A kingdom which is both now and not yet. Which is already happening and which is still to come. Studying Revelation, being involved in Soup Kitchens and committee’s on homelessness it makes me realize that there is still a great deal of work to be done.
If we are a community of Christ, I wonder what type of community Jesus is asking us to be? Compassionate, caring, kind, loving and welcoming. Accepting of all people. A guiding scripture for me is that of the Good Samaritan, where it is the outsider who is providing the help that is required. A reminder that God’s grace is active and at work in all places. Mostly I am reminded that there is still so much work to do. I don’t believe we can or even must do it all, but we are called to try and that can be scary.
Alan Cohen writes, “Scared and sacred are spelled with the same letters. Awful proceeds from the same root word as awesome. Terrify and terrific. Every negative experience holds the seed of transformation.”
Some of the things we are called to be engaged in might be scary, but I believe we will discover something sacred in the experience. I believe that as a Christian community we are called not necessarily to do bold and adventurous things, but to do small simple acts every day. We aren’t called to be the best at everything we do, but we are called to be faithful in everything that we are involved with.
So, is this the end? Well it is the end of our time looking at Revelation, for now. Is it the end of the Bible? Yes it’s the last book in the Bible, but it’s hardly the end. Rather it is the start of a new beginning, a time of waiting, a time for working, a time for worship. The exciting part is that we live both in the time after Revelation and the time before it. Because the promise of the new creation has not happened yet, we are still working on behalf of the coming Kingdom of God. This is exciting because in partnership with God we are writing the next chapter. We are a part of the grand tapestry which God is weaving.
Friends, we serve the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. The grace of the Lord Jesus, be with God’s people. Amen.