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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Trinity Sunday: Job, Revelation, John

Sunday School reflections on Daily Office Readings
Job 38:1-11, 42:1-5
The Apocalypse 19:4-16
John 1:29-34

Trinity Sunday is the week after Pentecost. It is the day set aside to focus on the Holy Three. Christian faith has a unique perspective on God--the three persons yet one God--a formulation which is a mystery. Perhaps it is enough to say Divine Nature is foreign to us. Only analogies work (see St. Patrick's Clover image) and the church does little more than affirm that God is One, there are Three.
The word Trinity never occurs in the Bible, but the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are all over the Bible. The readings from today's MP and EP are sited above. I provide brief comment on Job and Apocalypse which we reflected on in class.
Job is a very long work. It consists of several layers and in places can be a bit confusing as the "voices" are not always consistent in their arguments. There has been much scholarly reflection on the literary type, with an obvious difference in the narrative (at beginning and end)  which sandwiches the cycle of speeches given by Job's "friends" and Job's responses. It functions at some level as a "theodicy" ( ).

The context is a wager between God (who is pleased with His servant) and 'The Adversary' (the satan) who says Job is good because he has it good. One angle, therefore, is the story asks the question "is piety motivated by love of God or the benefits from God?" In the dialogues, Job argues for his righteousness and the unfairness of what he suffers. There are unasked questions, for example, "why should we think good things are the expected baseline?" Job never curses, so he does pass that test. The second theme is confronted with the appearance of God.

The friends are 'conservatives', trying to defend God's justice. In simple summary, they argue that bad things happen because people sin. This is hardly a radical idea. Job's response, "I am innocent," carries an existential weight, which is especially relevant for those who feel that the struggles of their life outweigh their personal evil. The debate rages on in  many chapters until God intervenes, demands that the friends apologize to Job, and then He turns His attention to Job (which we read a part of today). The story concludes with a "happily ever after restoration of Job's fortunes." The purpose of the author(s) is much debated--who wrote it and for what purpose (humanly) is lost to us. Some see different layers of editors and sources and discern different angles on the issue of "the problem of evil." The revelation(s) of God within this divinely inspired human work are also myriad. However, what we see and read today is a vital contribution in our quest to answer the question, "What kind of God is God?"

First of all, God answers Job out of a whirlwind. The Hebrew word (sa'ar) occurs twice in Kings in reference to the whirlwind that took up Elijah. It is also associated with God's judgment and appearances in several prophets. Storms are a regular feature of theophany and a reminder that God is not just 'another player' on the stage. It is noteworthy that this majesty and power are contrasted with remarkable humility. God answers Job. Think about it. The Creator stoops in an act of grace. Chapters 38-41 provide a relentless series of examples of what God is responsible for. Much of it is couched in questions. It is overkill, and another way of saying, "Job you are over your head so shut your pie hole." If God and reality are beyond our understanding, what then shall we do? One option is worship. We worship the One who is infinitely greater than we can imagine.

Apocalypse (cf Stephen Smalley "The Revelation to John who guides my thought here)
The majesty of God is again a focus. Here, arguably, is a type of literature which is a companion to the wisdom reflections of Job. Instead of asking "why is there evil in the world" apocalyptic literature is written to remind those who suffer that "better days are coming." "All is well that ends well" is certainly at play in Job and in the Apocalypse it is written large for the whole universe. Evil in the world will be subdued by the redemptive power of God. The modern reader is confused as past, present and future tenses are intermingled. (What God is doing, has been completed but will take place in the future, but we celebrate it now as accomplished because we have trust that what is happening will happen, and, as such, the redemption to come is the redemption that is trusted as already here.)
The Four beasts and Twenty four elders worship. Number symbolism is rampant in the Apocalypse. The number four is a "whole world" number (i.e. four directions on compass) so represents all living creatures. The two 12's are Israel's tribes and the New Israel/apostles.[Number awareness can be a way to open to God's subtle whisper; e.g., every time I notice it is 4:24 I think of the heavenly worship] Falling to worship is act of recognizing the glory of God (the one who is greater than we can imagine). Worship is fundamentally an 'on your face' activity directed to God. (Not an experience for a church audience!) The "voice from the throne" is not identified. Probably not God or Jesus, maybe it is the throne itself (we are in a land of wonders here!). What follows is a hymn/psalm of worship with the theme of the wedding feast.

I remind the reader that the entire Book of the Apocalypse may in fact be a theological/mystical/mythic description of the Sunday worship in the early church which unveils the reality of God's Kingdom (or heaven) on earth. Recall, the vision takes place on the Lord's Day. The whole book constantly weaves the Scriptures (the early church's only Bible is the Jewish Bible, what we refer to as the Old Testament) in such a way that hardly a verse cannot be found somewhere in the "Torah, Prophets or Writings."

The wedding, the Messiah joined to His church, is introduced here to be taken up again in 21:2. This is in contrast to the (anti-Bride) Harlot (Babylon's fall, mentioned in 14:8, but described in detail in chapters 17-18). This is a feature of the author's style, contrasting the true/real/authentic (e.g. Christ) with the false/imitation/phony ("anti" Christ). The wedding image can be found in Is 54:6, Ez 16:7 and Hos 2:14-23. In addition, Jesus is referred to as the Groom by John the Baptist and Himself. In addition, there are parables of the Kingdom as a wedding feast (hence, the first miracle at Cana is itself a "living parable"). Part of the mystery revealed is the centrality of union with God as the purpose of redemption. God made us for Himself and in the end we (the church, the called and chosen who respond) will be with Him forever. One unfortunate stream of Christian spirituality (I read 11th Century St. Bernard was its author) is applying the Bridal imagery to the individual soul. The emphasis on the personal private bond with Jesus must never forget the personal yet public/communal bond which is the source of the individual's relationship. Jesus comes for us, and "I" am part of that "us."  The guests wear white robes (associated with faithful witness earlier in the Apocalypse). One recalls the parable of Jesus (in Matthew) and the wedding garment as well. The "good/righteous deeds" is a controversial term, interpreted (as one would expect) based on the beliefs of the interpreter (and their stand on salvation; "Faith v. works"). My view is that what is able to be dissected in discussion is still in reality an organic whole. Faith is inhaling, works is exhaling--which one is most important? Faith is the gift of life, but without work-the outpouring of self in response to grace, the grace is only a gifted beginning, but the ongoing life in the kingdom is both.

The invitation is a recurring theme of both Testaments. Called and chosen! Come to me! This is one many Beatitudes found in the Bible. The Greek word "makarios" (blessed, happy) occurs seven (7 another symbolic number) times in the Apocalypse. Recall, written to upbuild those who were being persecuted, the idea of being blessed or happy based on faith/trust is vital in Christian living, and especially challenging when one feels not "abundant blessing" but "endless persecution." This is a hope literature. The wedding feast is the positive image of which the birds feasting on the carnage of the Lamb's enemies after the great battle is the "anti-." The symbolic imagery is shifts as both the wedding guests and the Bride are the church. However, the metaphoric nature of the images means that the author is simply piling image upon image to communicate the good news to us.

19:11-16 is another vision, the first of seven "I saw" in chapters 19-20. The two chapters function as a united sub unit. The warrrior Messiah emerges on a white horse. Faithfulness and Truth are overlapping concepts in Hebrew (where to be true is to be reliable). The deep symbolism of the names is no doubt connected to the Divine Name, which is a rich font for Jewish mystical traditions. The relationship of name and being is much stronger in biblical Judaic thought than it is in the nominalist post-modern world. Suffice to say in this brief encounter with the text, Jesus the Lord has a sword in His mouth (Sword is Spirit and Word of God elsewhere). His truth is judgment on the unrighteous and His word is destructive to the enemies of God. Remember the non-martial image of the death on the cross is another way to declare God's victory. The "garment soaked in blood" (and if garment is an image for deeds) may well be a direct reference to the crucifixion, atoning sacrifice of Jesus (who is elsewhere called the Lamb).

John 1:29-34 is read today because the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all mentioned, in conjunction with John (no "Baptist" title in the fourth Gospel) who declares Jesus is "the Lamb of God" (an Apocalypse title) and then testifies that He saw the Holy Spirit descend on Him like a dove. In the fourth Gospel, John did not know who Jesus was and it is the appearance of the Spirit which tips him off (God who sent Him had foretold this). No mention of a voice here (which probably means nothing except the author wants to focus on the Spirit). This reading is why I say that "the word Trinity is not in the Bible but the Trinity is all over the place!")

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