On this sixth Sunday of Easter, we are coming to the end of the book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible. We are approaching, in a word, the climax of the Biblical revelation, the point toward which the entire story had been tending. And we hear of the heavenly Jerusalem, a city with no temple—for the city itself, in its entirety, has become a temple, a place of right praise.
We are coming now toward the end of the book of Revelation, which means toward the end of the entire Biblical story. Writers will often draw the beginning and end of their work together; somehow the end is anticipated in the beginning, and the beginning is recapitulated at the end. There is something like that going on in the Bible. God has no intention of giving up on his creation or simply destroying it. The divorce that happened in the garden of Eden is overcome; and now the bride is ready for the Bridegroom.
The book of Revelation is an unveiling of a new state of affairs, the new things that are on offer in light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Though it looks like worldly power holds sway, real power belongs to the army of those who have chosen to follow the crucified and risen Savior. The martyrs have come from all corners of the world, and they have spoken many languages. And this is the army that, up and down the centuries, has undermined the foundations of the fallen world. This is the great fighting force that Jesus has unleashed and continues to unleash.
In today’s reading from Revelation, John is in the heavenly court and he sees angels, elders, and living creatures, countless in number, all standing around the throne and crying out in loud praise. This is a supreme liturgical act, an act of right praise. And whom are they worshiping? Not a mighty prince, not a great warrior, not a cosmic force, but a lamb, one of the meekest and tiniest of animals, who has been slain—Jesus Christ. The Church saw this evening sacrifice as the perfect act of praise—and now the cosmic Church is gathered around it and associating itself with it.
The Church has placed the book of Revelation at the end of the Bible, as the culmination of the entire Biblical narrative—precisely because it has relevance for all Christians of anytime, very much including ourselves. Something of central importance is revealed in this book. Something that was hidden to us and is now unveiled. And it has everything to do with Jesus and his resurrection from the dead—which is why we are reading from this book during the Easter season.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the foundation of the entire Christian faith. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, we should all go home and forget about it. As St. Paul himself puts it: “If Jesus is not raised from the dead, our preaching is in vain and we are the most pitiable of men.” But Jesus was, in fact, raised from the dead. And his resurrection shows that Christ can gather back to the Father everyone whom he has embraced through his suffering love.
In our Gospel reading for the Palm Sunday procession, Jesus sends his disciples into Jerusalem to prepare for his triumphal entry. They are told to untether a donkey, and if there is any protest from the owner, they are to say simply, “The Master has need of it.” Strictly speaking, God has need of nothing, since he is the unconditioned act of existence. God doesn’t need our praise or our good works or anything. But this phrase signals the wonderful truth that God allows us to cooperate with his grace so that we can participate in the work that he wants to do. He gives us what Aquinas called “the dignity of causality.” We are privileged to be instruments in his hands.
In this week's Gospel, we hear the story of the woman caught in adultery, a tale that has beguiled Christians and non-Christians for two millennia. The story displays our constant temptation to use knowledge of God’s law to hurt others, not to liberate them. We gossip, we scapegoat, we blame—and we convince ourselves that we’re just following the divine law in pointing out other people’s problems. But then enters Jesus, who affirms that the law's primary purpose is to make us humble, to draw us to higher attainment. Without denigrating the law in the least, Jesus reaches out in mercy in order to brings sinners back to life.
One the greatest Protestant theologians of the twentieth century, Paul Tillich, made a distinction between heteronomy (law from another), autonomy (law from oneself), and what he called “theonomy” (law of God). This week, we have the privilege to consider what is arguably the most magnificent and spiritually rich of Jesus’ parables—the story of the Prodigal Son—and in this familiar story, you’ll see the dynamics of these three approaches on clear display.