It isn’t often that we get a reading from Revelation in our
lectionary selections. If you are like me, you probably haven’t
preached from it very much – if at all. Perhaps your biblical
reading doesn’t include Revelation as well. Here is a chance to do
something about that, so I will focus on the first reading and add
some notes I found helpful about this feast.
When I did prison ministry at San Quentin in California, I was
struck by how many of the inmates who read the Bible favored the
Book of Revelation. What was it that they found so attractive in its
exaggerated and stark symbolism – in a biblical book that most
Christians seem to avoid? I came to realize they were drawn to its
description of the harsh struggle between good and evil that
permeates the entire book. They found it comforting to hope that the
large punishing system in which they lived, would someday be
overthrown along with all the powers of the world. This was
reassuring news, both to the early Christians suffering under the
Roman persecutions and the men in North Bloc at San Quentin. It is
reassuring news for all of us who struggle against the powers of
"the dragon" in our world.
Another attraction for the inmates, it seemed to me, was that
they believed they knew the code: that they could figure out the
symbols and metaphors so prevalent in Revelation. Somehow, they felt
part of an inner circle with special knowledge – everyone else was
outside that circle. They even used this "knowledge" as a way of
feeling superior to those in their same situation. But whatever
misinterpretation they may have made of Revelation, you could
understand their attraction to this book of visions and prophecies.
The book speaks to people suffering under extreme external
The early Christians, for whom this book was written, were being
forced to venerate the Emperor. Not to do so had, not only religious
ramifications, but political as well. Christians were asked to
choose one Lord to serve – a choice had to be made. If they chose in
favor of their Christian belief, they paid for it with their lives.
Revelation is not an abstract book of fantastic imagery and
other-worldly events. It was written to help Christians remain
faithful and to offer reassurance that the Lamb (or as in today’s
reading, the child) would be triumphant.
Is it any easier for us to believe and for our faith to flourish?
A casual perusal of just this day’s newspaper tells us of still more
car bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan; child soldiers killing in
Sudan; poor people in the southern hemisphere still suffering with
AIDS and other afflictions, who lack medicines that can save them;
children separated from their parents at our border, etc. We have to
ask the question, "Who is in charge here anyway?" We look around the
world and are shocked by the scale of evil we see. Which force will
win out? Are we believers on the side that will prevail, or is our
seeming-small human effort going to pale into insignificance before
the "red dragon with its seven heads and horns"?
Revelation intends to assure us that goodness will win. Like the
early Christians we may be tempted to drop out of our faith
commitments in the light, allure and power of the opposing forces.
Who is the Sovereign we Christians follow? God is and we want, and
can, be faithful to the biblical God of justice – the One who will
set things right. Revelation then, invites us to set our gaze, not
only on our hardships and calamities, but on God. The power of the
beast is awesome, its tail sweeps away a third of the stars in the
sky. But the child being born is protected by God and will triumph.
While there is no secret code to this book to help us in its
interpretation, the language does appeal to our imagination and
makes it possible to interpret it in many ways. The struggle is
clear and the threat of evil, devouring all that is good, is real
and very ominous. A new people, the Christian community, are being
born amid great pain and struggle. But despite the threats to its
existence, the child is caught by God and is safe. No biblical
reader could miss the allusions to the Hebrew scriptures. Just as
the God of the Jewish people protected them, so God continues to
protect the new people of God. God’s Word is not past tense, but
actively protecting and recreating the community for which Jesus
gave his life.
The community John has in mind is experiencing extreme hostility.
They are being encouraged through this book to trust that God knows
their plight and will come to their rescue. Evil shall not triumph.
It is no wonder then, that on this feast of the Assumption, this
reading is linked to Mary’s "Magnificat." Mary’s rejoices in the
saving work of God, "scattering the proud...casting down the mighty
from their thrones...." Here biblical faith, expressed in two
different forms, voices the same hope in God. John is not writing a
prediction of specific future events, as some today claim, but is
trying to encourage and console Christians in his day for their very
present suffering. He writes to help them, and us, keep faithful and
to assure us that God’s rule and justice will prevail.
The church celebrates the Assumption of Mary today. We see in her
a model for our faith. We too give birth to Christ in our world. We
are reminded though Christ suffered, he has been kept safe by God,
to whom he has returned and will come to bring us all to that place
of protection and life. So, the dragon is not triumphant. The
Christian is ready to say in the midst of the battle against evil’s
many manifestations, "Now have salvation and power come." The God of
our assurance is offering that assistance to us now in our present
for a link to the readings:
This is a complex feast on which to preach. I found some help,
some approach for the preacher, from Liturgy Training Publication’s,
SOURCEBOOK. I'll quote it in full and hope it offers some insights.
"History of the Solemnity: Soon after the council of Ephesus
(431) proclaimed Mary to be Theotokos, the Bearer of God, a feast of
her "dormition" or death began to spread. Within a few centuries,
the church in Rome began observing this feast, which came to be know
as the Assumption. At the first National Synod of the American
church (I791), the nation was placed under the patronage of Mary
with the title of the Assumption. The cathedral of the diocese of
Baltimore, at that time the See for the whole country, was given the
In 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption as dogma. At that
time, he listed the benefits that should flow from this
proclamation: a stronger piety towards Mary, a more universal
conviction on the value of human life devoted to God's will, a
repudiation of the materialism that diverts body and soul from their
lofty goal, and "Finally, it is our hope that belief in Mary's
bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own
resurrection stronger and render it more effective."
The images of the feast reflect its history. In its earliest
form, the day focused on the paschal mystery as expressed in the
death of Mary. Making her entrance into heaven explicit was the
second stage, with language about a triumphal procession, a bridal
march and Mary's bodily assumption later added a third layer of
texts for the feast.
Liturgy today: Recent history has focused strongly on the bodily
assumption of Mary. The readings for the vigil and the day, however,
suggest a stronger focus on Mary's share in the paschal mystery, and
on our own share in the same mystery. Planners might review the
goals of Pius XII. Have our parish observances of this feast
fostered a stronger belief in our own resurrection?"
----Lawrence Mick in, SOURCEBOOK FOR SUNDAY AND SEASONS: AN
ALMANAC OF PARISH LITURGY, 1995 YEAR C. (Chicago: Liturgy Training
Publication, 1995) page 188.
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Isaac J. Stroud #0478925 (On death row since 2/9/95)
- James E. Thomas #0404386 (2/24/95)
- Tony M. Sidden #0368820 (3/15/95)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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