A friend once told me of a mission trip that he made to a South American country. One evening, he and his companions were gathered around a fire in a small Andean village, and someone asked each person to name their favorite Bible verse. The Americans named some of the “usual supects” (I am the good shepherd…, God so loved the world…, Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers…). My friend was caught up short, however, when a small, aged woman spoke these words from the Gospel of Matthew: “Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.”
Eventually, he got to know the woman, and to know her story. She had lost her home to war, more than once. She had buried all her children. She was scratching out a living in a world that seemed to her unbearably brutal. For her, the great hope was that all this would change: that God would intervene, that the crushing old order would finally be halted, and a whole new world brought in.
When my friend told me that story, I realized afresh that my hopes are not the hopes of the poor. Because I have always had enough to eat, because I have not been prey to war, because I have not seen the people and places I love destroyed, I think of this world as pretty fantastic place, a place of beauty and order and friendship and joy. For many people, that is not the case.
Tonight, we will start a study of Revelation in my parish. Four weeks, which is about all I can take of it! Revelation was written for women like the one around the campfire, people whose hope in this world had grown so thin that they had learned to cast all their care on God. Revelation paints in chiaroscuro, with the dark bits very dark, and the light almost blinding. But it does that so we can see the light and recognize the darkness, and leave the darkness behind us.
Revelation does not evade a harsh truth: that this world is haunted by death, by decay, by loss, by war, by corruption. But it does assert that underneath it all, beyond our normal sight, almost beyond our hearing, we are sustained every minute of every day by a great chorus of divine love, which grows stronger each day, with every prayer by every saint, with every act of mercy and courage and grace, until the Great Day when it shall put the darkness to flight forever.