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Bloody washing! (a sermon)

May 1, 2010

Text: Rev 7: 9–17

Two weeks ago I got enthusiastic about the book of Revelation… It’s come up again in the lectionary, so I decided to have another go.

Last time, we looked at Revelation 5. It was all about whether the meek will actually inherit the earth. Whether those who take the way of vulnerability and non-violence will in fact win out in the end. What is God actually doing in history? Should we follow the Lamb – i.e. Jesus – who persevered in his witness to the death, or should we be more ‘realistic’ – as we imagine realistic to be? Is the witness of Jesus really the secret to history, the key that unlocks the meaning of God’s life in history? These questions take us to the core of what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus – a worshipper of the Lamb.

Since then we had Anzac Day. And after Anzac day, I watched a movie called ‘God on Trial’. It was about a group of Jews about to be killed in Auschwitz who spend the evening prior to their death enacting the trial of God. They put God on trial. … Fairly soon they established that the charge against God is that he had broken the covenant. God is in the dock for ‘breach of contract’.

So they told their stories. They all came from different perspectives, atheists, rationalist modernists, pious Jews clinging to the tradition, intellectuals, rabbis and ordinary folk. Some prosecuting, some defending God. One man’s powerful story tells of how all his three beautiful sons are taken from him by the SS and when he pleads for them they offer him a choice, which one would he like to keep. The offer him “free will”, a strange freedom of choice. We don’t know the outcome of the dilemma. Whether he made a choice whether he received a son, dead or alive.

In the end the majority of the prisoners found God guilty.

As I thought about the movie I was reminded of the vision in Revelation from the last sermon. John of Patmos is weeping because no one can open the scroll. No one can speak for God into the situation of those persecuted Christians. They wait for God in the form of the strong Messiah, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. In the end the only form God comes in is the form of a slaughtered Lamb. In the end it is as a crucified criminal that God is with them in history. In the end it is as a Jewish scapegoat (a scape-Lamb, a victim of the empire) that God is in fact with them. This is their only God.

The most powerful speech for me in the movie came from a learned Rabbi who offered a pastiche of stories from the Torah in which horrendous acts are attributed to the God of Israel – children punished and killed for the sins of their parents. The first-born children of the Egyptians are not the only examples, Amalekites slaughtered man, women and children… the list is a long one. But the rabbi concludes (for the prosecution), that perhaps the Germans were right when they put the words “Gott mit uns” (God with us) on the buckles of their soldiers’ uniforms. Perhaps the same God is now slaughtering his people Israel, man, women and child. Why not?!

Compare that vision of Gott mit uns with the vision of John of Patmos in Revelation. God is with a multitude of people – an unimaginably large group from every nation and culture and language – but with them not as the God of power and control and war, only as the ‘faithful witness to the death’.

And those who know this about God… are described by John as the survivors of a great ordeal who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.

Blood is not exactly your usual cleaning chemical… “Robes” are a metaphor for their lives.

They have soaked their lives, their imagination, their activities, their habits, their ideas, and their hopes in this crucified man. He is their God. He is God with them. This is their strange victory caught up in his strange victory.

Funny how the metaphors reflect the strangeness of it all. Washed in blood. And then in the end we read that the Lamb is their shepherd. You might say it’s just bad poetry… until you understand how the gospel works.

He will guide them [this Lamb-shepherd] to springs of the water of life…. Where the violent world offers routines and rituals which take life from others and destroy them. Where the empire that surrounds them offers deception and false hopes of power and glory. Those who see God suffering and refusing to retaliate to the point of death, find with him ‘springs of the water of [real] life’

Our empire is not the Roman Empire. Our Empire is not the Nazi regime. What is our empire … I wonder? Our Empire is not even America, I suspect. Our empire is more like ‘global capital’. Our empire transcends any nation… it is multi-national.  Our empire nevertheless seeks to control our every move, it wants to give us robes. It wants us to belong. Our empire may be different but the challenge is still relevant. The violence may be hidden away in the third world… (on the other side of the cheap products we need an endless supply of) but it’s still there and it’s engulfing the planet in apocalyptic proportions. It’s hard even to put a name on it, but its not hard to see for those with eyes to see.

And our God still refuses to fight evil with evil. God is not with us as a kind of ‘counter empire’. God is with us, if god is with us at all, as the crucified Jesus.

To buy into John of Patmos’s vision means that we become those whose lives are transformed by his life. Our robes are washed in the blood. Perhaps worship is the washing machine… we gather and are swirled around, disoriented, We are knocked together against one another, red and yellow, black and white… with all the dirt of the empire that has accumulated in our lives… until the life of Christ given even to death gets into all the crevices of our life, like bloody washing powder.

If Revelation 5 challenges us about the nature of God, today’s reading (Revelation 7) challenges us to take seriously the washing process. We live in an empire that colours everything we see, such that our imagination shuts down to any different possibilities. We cannot imagine a different world. We want this empire… we may be concerned, but in the end we accept it as the best of all possible worlds. And we have no idea why those terrorists out there don’t get it! In a curious way the terrorists remind us of the presence of the empire. At least the poor can sit quietly and avoid news coverage. The terrorists remind us of the existence of the empire… like fish who need to be reminded of the water we swim in. But the terrorists are not like the Lamb. They fight empire with counter-empire. The Lamb subverts.

The Lamb and those washed by the Lamb are not anxious about the outcome of history… they do not need to become like the empire to fight it. Because they have heard the promise that comes at the end of today’s text. They know that the crucified one is risen. The God who refuses to fight evil with evil, but instead subverts… this God will nevertheless conquer

The promise remains. God [the slaughtered one] will wipe every tear from their eyes

Bruce Hamill 2.5.10 (at St Clair)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2010 3:17 am

    Apart from the fact that you got the name of the movie wrong (it’s God on Trial), this is great stuff Bruce. May your folk be blessed in the hearing.

  2. May 1, 2010 3:32 am

    Now correct. That explained why I struggled to find reviews. Thanks for the encouragement jason.

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