Wednesday, November 02, 2011

All Saints' Sunday and Revelation

As I prepare for All Saints' Sunday this week, I am focusing on the text of Rev. 7:9-17 as the basis of my sermon.  The gospel text, the Beatitudes, were done in depth earlier this year when the lectionary went through the Sermon on the Mount.  I read those texts in close conversation with Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas. I feel like I have gone over those texts rather fully for my preaching and I am afraid that I might just be repeating myself even with the lesser festival to add a different context. 

At the same time, I have an intriguing commentary on my shelves that has seen little use.  Revelation by Joseph Mangina is part of Brazos' Theological Commentary series.  And while I would not say that I am preaching on the Revelation text solely because I have a fairly new and mostly unread commentary, it is certainly part of why I am choosing to preach on this text.

In the introduction Mangina addresses approaches to interpreting Revelation.  He points out that in the Middle Ages, most readings looked at this strange book as an account of Church history between the first and second comings of Christ, even if great latitude was allowed with chronology.  Figures in the symbol-rich book then had to be named.  Numerous people were attributed characters, whether the angel of the eternal gospel in chapter ten, or the beast in chapter thirteen.  Mangina points to this sort of reading as decoding interpretations, which are contrasted with actualizing interpretations, where the spirit of the text is sought to be conveyed rather than hard and fast identities and meanings.  Likewise, interpretations will depend on whether the preacher is past-, present- or future-oriented. 

In a wonderful paragraph following this discussion, Mangina writes:
What this [vast array of interpretive possibilities] tells us is that we must not be obsessed with hermeneutics.  If this work is indeed holy scripture, a great gift of God to the church, then we need not worry about how to bridge the gap between the first century and the twenty-first; the Spirit is perfectly capable of overcoming any gap that may exist.  It would be surprising if a book that names God as the one "who is, and who was and who is to come" (1:4) did not have something to say about the past, present and future alike.  The question of time is secondary to the question of God.  The same holds true for our obsession with codes.  No doubt the Apocalypse has its share of puzzles, from the identity of Jezebel and the Nicolatians, to the curious sequences of seven and of ten kings, to the mysterious number of the beast himself.  No doubt we would like to know more about such matters.  Now doubt wrestling with them may sometimes help us to become better, more attentive readers.  But no amount of hermeneutical prowess will save us if we do not approach the Apocalypse as a witness to God's action on behalf of his world, as the revelation of Jesus Christ, and as an instrument of the Holy Spirit in opening our minds and hearts to the things that God has done and is doing in our midst. (Revelation, p. 29--emphasis original)

Reading the book of Revelation as a witness to God's action on behalf of his world is definitely helpful, especially as we we look to the lives of people who continue to witness to God's activity. 

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