The Book of Revelation needs to be interpreted like a dream, sometimes like a nightmare. Its imagery draws on signs and symbols and language familiar historically for two reasons. For one, half of 400 or so verses of the Book of Revelation have an Old Testament reference. And much of the remaining half is code language from the end of the first century during the oppressive reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian. (This is the Roman Empire, not to be confused with Emperor Constantine’s Holy Roman Empire two centuries later. ) In the Book of Revelation, the horrors that are imagined, the persecution, the description of thrones and dominions and usurpers of divine authority can all be traced back to what was going on at the end of the first century. The fact that the Book of Revelation found its way into the Canon of Holy Scripture shows that to subsequent generations – up to and including today – the battle between good and evil, about the nature of authority and dominion and its compromises, and the eternal quest for justice and peace and provision is still very much present to us today. Just read the front page of the newspaper.
In this lesson from Revelation appointed for today, two images are particularly powerful: For one, the tree of life. The image of this tree of life is a conflation of three things: the primordial tree of life found in the garden of Eden; secondly, the redemptive tree of life found in the garden of Gethsemane, the cross; and thirdly, a fruit tree within anyone’s eyesight – an olive tree, pomegranate or fig, bearing fruit for the eating, quite literally to sustain life.
You might find this multi-layered image of the tree of life inviting for your own prayer. Pray with the image of the tree of life in Eden, symbolizing innocence and abundance and temptation amidst so much decadence and starvation in the world today. What does the Eden tree of life mean to you? Or pray with the image of the tree of life in Gethsemane, of the real presence of the suffering Christ in your suffering and in the suffering of the world, the tree of life found in the cross. Or pray with the image of the tree of life as a symbol for our own ecological stewardship. You might want to lay your hands on one of the great sycamore trees that line the boulevard in front of the Monastery. Pray with the image of the tree of life. See if you can draw these three layers of the tree of life into one scene in your own heart.
A second image in this lesson from Revelation is the image of light: “There will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light...” What about this light? In the Book of Genesis, in the creation account of chapter 1, we read that “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep… Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” That was Day One: God’s creation of light. But it is not until Day Four that God created the sun and moon. Did you get that? God creates light, Day One. God creates the sun and moon, Day Four. When we read in the Revelation that “they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light…” this appeals to God being light, and Christ Jesus renewing God’s light in the world. In your own prayer, you might find it helpful, especially on a dreary November day, to pray for God’s light, the light by which we see light, to enlighten the eyes of your heart, to bring light to the uncharted path ahead. This image of light, as we hear it in the Book of Revelation, is not about the sun or moon, nor is it about a candle or an artificial light. This is about the first light, preceding light, in which we have been created to glow. Receive the light.
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