Bono, frontman for U2, was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine upon Johnny Cash's death. He told the most relatable story, like, ever. "When I visited him at home one time, he said the most beautiful, poetic grace. He said, 'Shall we bow our heads?' We all bowed our heads. Then, when he was done, he looked at me and said, 'Sure miss the drugs, though.' It was just to say, 'I haven’t become a holy Joe.' He just couldn’t be self-righteous. I think he was a very godly man, but you had the sense that he had spent his time in the desert. And that just made you like him more. It gave his songs some dust. And that voice was definitely locusts and honey."
The son of an impoverished Depression-era farmer, Cash had many run-ins with the police, enjoyed plenty of substances, and suffered from ill-health as he aged. Is it any wonder, then, that this rough and tumble man could write a song about the book of Revelation? If the liberation offered through Jesus really permeates the entire bible, then Revelation is no exception. The downtrodden see it. Cash's entire discography centers around this unfailing Grace. But, like Johnny, one must first encounter it.
Righteous living is fine and it's hard enough, but coping with a world having a meltdown ... is harder still.
I struggle wildly with the concept. I tend to prefer the company of the downtrodden over pretense. I prefer to get messy over appearing 'clean.’ But sometimes I don't get it right. I fail to live out the way of Jesus in the margins. Righteous living is fine and it's hard enough, but coping with a world having a meltdown, as John said this Sunday, is harder still. Some days all I can do is repeat "Lord Jesus come quickly" to stagger out of bed. Walking with the lowly can be dismaying, but John of Patmos urges us to not give up. Christ is coming to establish a new and lasting kingdom of peace and plenty and mercy. How do we then witness? How do we walk the line?
This week's text sees some weirdly destructive happenings. No, God hasn't suddenly given up His way of peace for violence; we are viewing the Roman empire (Nero, plague, oppression, famine, and martyrdom) through John's prophetic lens. Christ isn't bringing about some big future war, He is showing us the ceaselessness nature of brokenness and offering a way out. He rides a horse and a sword emerges from his mouth. I've never exactly fought a war with melee weapons, but I imagine a sword isn't brandished with the mouth. That's because Christ has come to win with His words. His words which made the universe. His words which gasped, "Father, forgive them!" Consider also that in liturgy the Lord's prayer is introduced as "praying the words that Jesus taught us to pray . . . " The church must learn to pray prophetic prayers if it is going to be part of the story.
I would be absolutely remiss if I did not interject with some C.S. Lewis here. In the final book of his Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis depicts, rather fantastically, the end of the world and the beginning of a newer, realer world. If you're into Platonic philosophy, then this is your book. If you've read Revelation, then you'll pick up on the allegory easily. Put briefly, near the end of the book, when the old, broken world is dissolved (eaten by dragons, actually!) Lewis writes, "All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."
Better. Than. The. One. Before.
If this is merely the title page, then I think I can hold out hope. And hold, and hold, and hold . . . Our calling is so very trying, but the stakes are so very high. Each of God's beloved image bearers is written into His story. "After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb." Desmund Tutu offered this, "We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low." Johnny Cash sang, "Multitudes are marchin' to a big kettledrum, some are born and some are dyin', it's Alpha and Omega's kingdom come."
It is my hope and prayer for us that Revelation spurs us beyond the title page and on to fully loving our neighbor enough to bring them to a new kingdom, a new chapter --especially the neighbor whose sole comfort may come from the book at the end of the bible. Our story ends with the severing of the world's chains by the One on a white horse who wields a sword. Life tip: we're not empty-handed either. Forgiveness, compassion, justice, mercy, reconciliation, solidarity, prayer and sacrifice are the 'arsenal' for the Christian living between both worlds. Don't shy away or hide behind legalism. Don't be afraid of grit. Be bold, sever chains! And if you're so inclined, perhaps a bit of a black wardrobe overhaul is in order, too.
For further reading on prayer:
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis
Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home by Richard J. Foster
Amy Rowell Buff is the mother of Abigail and Noah, married to David for 10 years. Planning to attend seminary. Loves reading, collecting vintage things, listening to old records, and camping.