A Reflection on the Readings for May 22, 2022 — The Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Book of Revelation can seem frightening at first glance. Strange visions, violent encounters, bizarre creatures—the apocalypse! However, when you dig deeper, you will discover that Revelation is a vision of our ultimate future. The picture on the front of the puzzle box, the photo of the Ikea dresser at the end of the assembly instructions, the representation of that towards which the universe is drawn by an infinite, omniscient, and omnipotent God. What can be challenging is that Revelation does not come right out and describe this vision in straightforward language but instead uses symbols, numbers, and references to the seventy-two books of the Bible that precede it.
One of those strange codes that pops up repeatedly as if we’re supposed to know what it means is the number twelve. In this case, it references several related but distinct things:
- Twelve zodiac signs—You know, Capricorn, Pisces. The zodiac appears to be referenced consistently throughout Revelation not because of some type of astrological divination, which is explicitly condemned in scripture, but as a representation of creation itself.
- Twelve tribes of Israel—The descendants of the sons of Jacob and the Jewish people. The twelve tribes represent the Jewish people in scripture and history.
- Twelve apostles—The original followers of Christ. The apostles represent God’s new covenant with his Church.
Each of these groups of twelve represents a way in which we can come to know God and experience his grace. In the beginning, of course, God offers the gift of creation itself, through which even today, we can see and feel his presence. We can also encounter God through sacred scripture and his Providence seen in his action on behalf of his people throughout history. Finally, of course, God avails himself to his people through the work of his Church. Now, each of these modes of experiencing God’s grace is undoubtedly sacred, but each is also, in some sense, temporary. Temporary, at least in the manner we experience them today. Whereas now we live in a world where God makes himself known to us through other things, through visible signs of his invisible grace, the book of Revelation describes a future in which we no longer require signs to experience God’s presence.
The heavenly Jerusalem will be made of stone as clear as crystal, without obstructing our vision of the Divine. The heavenly Jerusalem no longer requires a Temple in which to offer sacrifice, the Lamb of God himself will be present. The heavenly Jerusalem has no need of the sun or the moon through which one can experience God’s light, for the light itself will be in our midst. Revelation describes the ultimate reality towards which the world is coming; it is an unmediated experience of God’s grace. The vision of the heavenly Jerusalem isn’t so much a call to do something as it is a call to see something. We look at the picture on the front of the puzzle box to know what we are working towards. We look at it to avoid losing sight of the ultimate goal. Of course, we still need to do the work of placing the puzzle pieces in their proper spot, just like we need to receive God’s mediated grace in the present order of things, but the mediated grace we receive today isn’t the end point. It is sacred, to be sure, but temporary. Creation, God’s Providence in history, and the Church are not eradicated in the end; they are flooded with God’s grace to such an extent that their role in our relationship with him changes utterly.
This ultimate vision is decisive in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. In it, the early Church is engaged in a debate over whether Christians must observe all the requirements of the Old Covenant. Their vision of the reality towards which God was drawing them allowed them to set aside the rules that for so long had connected them to him. They recognized that the mediated way they received grace had been transformed, drawing them one step closer to that heavenly Jerusalem. The vision of the book of Revelation is not a call to set aside the ways God intervenes in our lives now through his creation, scripture, and Church, but rather a call to recognize the purpose those mediated graces serve. To see them not as the final state of things but as instruments that will lead us to our ultimate destiny. The book of Revelation should not be read as a threat but as a liberating vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, in which the light of God will shine directly on his Church, in which God himself will dwell with his people for eternity.
Image: Adobe Stock. By JavierArtPhotography.
Fr. Alex Roche is the pastor of St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Laflin, Pennsylvania and serves as the director of vocations for the Diocese of Scranton. Ordained in 2012, he has a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University. He went to college with a girl who went to high school with the niece of the guy who played Al in Quantum Leap.
You can listen to his podcast at www.wadicherith.com.