Reading Revelation with the Surrealists: Part 1-Assumptions

I was in the spirith on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”  –Revelation 2:10-11

Things are not what we perceive them to be, they are what they are. Or maybe better said, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

We are not in Kansas (well most of us aren’t) Nor are we in 1st century Smaryna, Ephesus or Sardis. That doesn’t mean John’s Revelation has nothing to say to us, but as we read, we should be aware of some things.

John writes to and for particular people at a particular time in particular places with particular internal and external problems; problems he seeks to address. He addresses them in a medium they were comfortable with (more comfortable than we are), drawing upon scriptural language and symbols they know well. This is a vision, the normal rules of time, physics, and sensory observation may or may not apply. John sees a voice, is transported to heaven and to Jerusalem, figures have more than one appearance simultaneously. Things are certainly not what they seem, they are what they are; they are truths that transend (and transgress) our normal perceptions.

John’s vision can be utterly strange and even frightening. This is impart, because we are not his intended audience. The ancient fathers were quite confident that John wrote about things immediately past and present for them, as well as about things to (quickly) come. Yet John also writes for the whole Church, including us today. The symbols of his vision are strong enough to bear interpretation, and re-interpretation. We must just be aware that we are re-interpreting, and must strive to do it faithfully. As we read our new context and its assumption should never obscure the core of John’s vision, for that is still true.

Even in all that has changed, from John’s time to now, God is still glorious, still with us, and still calling us into new life in God’s present/coming kingdom.

“This is not a pipe”
The Treachery of Images (Rene Magritte)

 

 

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