Today’s Bible reading
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come and see.”
They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). – John 1:35-41
More thoughts for meditation
The Mass in B minor by Johann Sebastian Bach is a musical setting of the complete Ordinary of the Latin Mass (“ordinary” means the parts of the liturgy that stay the same every day). Bach’s Mass was never performed in its entirety during his lifetime.
If you read his entry on Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body (July 28), you’ll be reminded that much of Bach’s genius was unappreciated during his lifetime, yet he persisted in offering it. The first documented complete performance of the B Minor Mass took place in 1859 after Bach was “rediscovered.” Since the nineteenth century it has been widely considered one of the greatest compositions in musical history, and today it is frequently performed and recorded.
The work was one of Bach’s last compositions, not completed until 1749, the year before his death. Some say it represents the consecration of a whole life. It was started in 1733 and was not finished for 26 years, after Bach had already gone blind. It is a monumental work containing a synthesis of every stylistic and technical contribution the Cantor of Leipzig made to music. It is also a striking spiritual mixture of the Catholic glorification of and the Lutheran cult of the cross
The “Agnus Dei” was one of the last portions to be added to the Mass Ordinary in the 700’s. It comes from John 1:29 and is often used during communion. The priest again uses the phrase “Lamb of God” when displaying the consecrated Host (or the Host and Chalice) to the people before giving them Holy Communion. He says: “Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccata mundi. Beati qui ad cenam Agni vocati sunt” (Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb).
As you listen, let that phrase be lifted by Bach’s faithful, heartfelt expression of genius. The solo is such an interesting tune, it could be distracting. Maybe the second time you hear it you can feel the mournful complexity and the confident yearning of asking the wounded Lamb for mercy. If you read music, you can be part of the choir!
Suggestions for action
All the talk of the Book of Revelation this week brings up the subject of judgment and hell. Here is a quote from one of our favorites books: Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace. In that book Volf reflects on Revelation 19 and helps us sort out the apparent dichotomy between the God who loves us enough to die for us and the God who will judge us on the last day — the Lamb on the throne.
“The Anabaptist tradition, consistently the most pacifist tradition in the history of the Christian church, has traditionally had no hesitation about speaking of God’s wrath and judgment, and with good reasons. There is no trace of this nonindignant God in the biblical texts, be it Old Testament or New Testament, be it Jesus of Nazareth or John of Patmos. The evildoers who “eat up my people as they eat bread,” says the Psalmist in God’s name, will be put “in great terror” (Psalm 14:5). Why terror? Why not simply reproach? Even better. why not reasoning together? Why not just display “suffering love?” Because the evildoers “are corrupt” and “they do abominable deeds” v.1); they have “gone astray,” they are “perverse” (v. 3). God will judge not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves; if evildoers experience God’s terror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah.
If we accept the stubborn irredeemability of some people, do we not end up with an irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of Christian faith? Here the “crucified Messiah” with arms outstretched embracing the “vilest sinner,” there the Rider on the white horse with a sharp sword coming from his mouth to strike down the hopelessly wicked? The patient love of God over against the fury of God’s wrath? Why this polarity? Not because the God of the cross is different from the God of the second coming. After all, the cross is not forgiveness pure and simple, but God’s setting aright the world of injustice and deception. The polarity is there because some human beings refuse to be “set aright.” Those who take divine suffering (the cross) as a display of divine weakness that condones the violator – draw upon themselves divine anger (the sword) that makes an end to their violence. The violence of the Rider on the white horse, I suggest, the symbolic portrayal of the final exclusion of everything that refuses to be redeemed by God’s suffering love. For the sake of the peace of God’s good creation, we can and must affirm this divine anger and this divine violence, while at the same time holding on to the hope that in the end, even the flag bearer will desert the army that desires to make war against the Lamb.
Should not a loving God be patient and keep luring the perpetrator into goodness? That is exactly what God does: God suffers the evildoers through history as God has suffered them on the cross. But how patient should God be? The day of reckoning must come, not because God is too eager to pull the trigger, but because every day of patience in a world of violence means more violence and every postponement of vindication means letting insult accompany injury. “How long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood?” cry out the souls under the altar to the Sovereign Lord (Rev. 6:10). We are uncomfortable with the response which calls on the souls “to rest a little longer until the number should be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed!” (v.11) But the response underlines that God’s patience is costly, not simply for God, but for the innocent. Wanting for the evildoers to reform means letting suffering continue….
Does not the Apocalypse paint a different picture of the end, the one more congruent with its violent imagery of the Rider’s conquest? Is not the last vision dominated by “the throne” (Rev. 22:1) from which earlier “flashes of lightning” and “peals of thunder” were coming (4:5)? Is not the nameless “one seated on the throne” (4:9, 5:1) a perfect projection of the ultimate and incontestable warrior-potentate? If this were so, the Apocalypse would simply mirror the violence of the imperial Rome it had set out to subvert. The most surprising thing about this book is that at the center of the throne, we find the sacrificed Lamb (cf. 5:6, 7:17, 22:1). At the very heart of “the One who sits on the throne” is the cross. The world to come is ruled by the one who on the cross took violence upon himself in order to conquer the enmity and embrace the enemy. The Lamb’s rule is legitimized not by the “sword” but by the “wounds”; the goal of its rule is not to subject but to make people “reign for ever and ever” (22:5). With the Lamb at the center of the throne, the distance between the “throne” and the “subjects” has collapsed in the embrace of the triune God.”
Within the church (particularly Circle of Hope, where we encourage such things) there are people who are resistant to truth, love, morality and service. Our patience with them leads to repentance. We must keep the Lamb on our throne. Our persistent embrace is the flash of lightning upon which we rely. The lure of our relational truth-being and truth-telling is crucial to any change the God-opponents might experience. We might long for “apocalypse now” when it comes to the persistent unbelievers and sin-dealers, but we are constrained to leave that to God’s timing. Let’s meet the end in God’s embrace, embracing. Consider how to embrace today.
If you lead worship among us, what is all this teaching you?