The honorary director of lay discipleship in the Diocese in Europe, Dr Clare Amos, considers the Book of Revelation and how it relates to “the ordinary”.
What do you think about the Book of Revelation – sometimes called “the Apocalypse”? It is so different from the rest of the New Testament that I find it quite an enigma. Over the centuries it has also been used by some Christian interpreters in ways that I genuinely feel to be dangerous.
From time to time I offer biblical study mornings at Holy Trinity, Geneva, Switzerland, where I am a member of the congregation. We have now looked at quite a few biblical books, from both Old and New Testaments. Our chaplain was keen that we should explore the Book of Revelation together. I put it off for as long as I could – but eventually plucked up my courage and agreed to lead a morning on Revelation this coming autumn, although the phrase “where angels fear to tread” has since been resonating in my mind. At least “angels” and “Revelation” seem to belong together!
As I write this I am in New Zealand where I am the fortunate recipient of a study residency offered by the Anglican Retreat Centre, Vaughan Park, near Auckland. My forthcoming morning on Revelation is on my mind, so I was fascinated to visit Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral in Auckland and discover that one of its stained-glass windows portrays scenes from Revelation.
The Cathedral is beautiful and inspirational, and so is the window. I was however wondering why it was that one of the largest windows in the cathedral was dedicated to this particular theme. The answer I think is because it is the first thing one sees on entering the cathedral through what is called the Bishop Patteson door.
John Coleridge Patteson was a missionary bishop who had been based initially in New Zealand but had then become the first Anglican bishop of Melanesia. In 1871 he was killed in the course of his ministry in the islands. His memory is deeply cherished by the Anglican Church of Melanesia.
The “Revelation” window of the cathedral depicts the martyrs who sing the songs of the heavenly Jerusalem – whose choir we may assume Bishop Patteson has now joined.
I am enjoying my weeks in New Zealand very much, and trying to learn at least something about the country while I am here. One of the things that interests me is the very meaning of the word “Maori” – it apparently signifies “ordinary”, as for example in “ordinary people” rather than, say, “rulers” or “foreigners”.
Being “ordinary” is seen as something to be honoured and it is good. There is surely a connection between “ordinary” and the “incarnation”, that central tenet of our Christian faith. I have long loved George Herbert’s description of prayer as “heaven in ordinary”.
So what I am discovering from my short time in New Zealand is that as Christians perhaps we are called to live in a kind of creative tension between these two worlds: the world of the ordinary and the world of the apocalypse or Revelation, so that each can challenge and interrogate the other. We need both and they are the two poles of our faith.
Apocalypse speaks to me of great suffering and great glory, of martyrs, of intensity and certainty, of jagged and sharp disjunctions of time and place. The “ordinary” is much gentler; it celebrates the beauty of our present creation (very apparent here in New Zealand), the loving kindness of family and friends, of seeing the whole of life as deeply sacramental. The temptation of the “ordinary” is not to realise the need for some deep changes in society and church; the temptation of “apocalypse” is not to appreciate the goodness of God’s world and not to rejoice in what we have already been given.
During this time in New Zealand I am exploring the theme of “transfiguration” for I believe that this deeply biblical motif has something vital to say to us, especially as Anglicans, about how to live out our calling to be real agents of change in the places where God has set us to be.
God of vision, God in ordinary,
Transfiguring and transfigured Lord,
You encourage us to lift up our eyes to the hills,
And inspire us to journey with you to the mountain-top.
Enable us also to cherish your presence with us in the valleys and plains of human life,
So that beholding and reflecting your glory,
We may draw all human beings closer to your love.