Alpha and Omega
November 21, 2021 Reign of Christ Alpha and Omega
Mitt Romney, on the campaign trail in 2008 seeking the Republican nomination for President, looked out on a crowd of supporters, shook his head, and said to his wife, Ann, who was standing there beside him, “Ann, when you married me did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine we would be here?” Without missing a beat, she said, “Mitt, you weren’t in my wildest dreams.”
John has been exiled because of his Christian faith to the island of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea off the coast of present-day Turkey. While he’s there, he records his wildest dreams, revelations passed down from God to Christ to an angel . . . to John, and they’re pretty wild. These revelations are fanciful, dramatic, kaleidoscopic, at times psychedelic, deeply devotional and richly symbolic. They are harsh and they are heavenly.
At one level, John’s dreams are an indictment of the world order of his day—of any period in history, really—a raging against the political machines of self-empowerment and subjugation. They pronounce the ultimate dissolution of the existing empire, which in John’s day was an oppressive Roman nation-state often showing open hostility toward the fledgling Christian sect, furnishing the church with some of its earliest martyrs.
But Revelation is not a simple show of force, one would-be monarch toppling another from their throne. It’s a far more complex picture. For instance, the new order that John envisions, while it has a throne, the figure who replaces the tyrant on that throne is not a bigger tyrant, a more clever tyrant, a better armed tyrant; but a lamb. In these same pages, tears are wiped away; in these pages we discover songs of rejoicing and praise that have stirred generations, including the words that inspired Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. In these same pages a tree is envisioned whose leaves will heal the nations. In these same pages, we find divine words of tender promise that have brought hope to countless broken hearts—maybe even yours: Behold, I make all things new.
In John’s wildest dreams we are given a keener sense of the goodness of God’s purposes in history, and not by a big divine fish simply swallowing up a little pagan fish. At the center of history’s consummation is a new creation—a new heaven, and a new earth. There is justice. But mercy, too. Judgment, but also healing.
Revelation is an invitation for the faithful, particularly during times of discouragement or struggle, to continue to anticipate a future that is just and good. Although the wrong seems oft’ so strong, God is the ruler yet.
And what about us? Are we to be found anywhere in these grand and kaleidoscopic visions? Are we in John’s wildest dreams? I believe we are. Here at the very beginning we read these words: I am the Alpha and Omega. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet; Omega, the last. I am the Alpha and Omega, the one who was, and is, and is to come.
On a grand scale those words are serving notice to an oppressive empire that its days are numbered; but they also speak to the Jesus community. That is, to us. The message here is meant to engender both an assurance that God is at work in the world, and a sense that we are a part of it.
I am the Alpha and the Omega; elsewhere in Revelation, “the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” We have a sense of being encompassed by God’s presence, like the psalmist who sings of being blessedly bordered by the divine: Thou hast beset me behind and before; or in another translation, You hem me in on every side. The visions of Revelation may be way, way out there; but they also whisper of God’s nearness, God’s encompassing love and purposes in our lives.
Later in this chapter, in words we can overhear, Jesus says to John, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last.” The sovereignty of God and the settling of the heart have never come so close.
New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias had grown up in Jerusalem before moving to Germany to study and teach. Years later he returned to Jerusalem to visit some old acquaintances, Jewish friends he had made when he lived there. It was during the Feast of Booths, or Succoth, an annual ritual recalling God’s provision of shelter for the Israelites in the wilderness. During that festival a temporary outdoor shelter or tent is constructed from branches and leaves, and the faithful camp out in this feeble structure as a reenactment of God’s faithful provision both during their desert sojourn, and always.
His friends had erected a makeshift dwelling in their back yard, with two small signs posted on either side of the entrance: One read From God; the other: To God. From God, to God, with a makeshift tent in the middle. Sounds a lot like the sum of our lives, doesn’t it?
We shared in a church Conference yesterday afternoon. Four churches were there together—La Trinidad hosting us; then Travis Park; Korean UMC, and Laurel Heights. Church after church, each a different context from our own, shared what were essentially their Succoth experiences through the last year; wilderness . . . and God’s faithful provision. When our turn came, our story was the same: challenges, and sustaining grace. From God, to God. An improvised dwelling in between.
The God who holds history holds us as well, from our mother’s arms to the present day and into an unknown but assured future. Whenever we sing that cosmic declaration in the Gloria Patri, “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be” those words have a personal dimension, too: God has been in my beginning, and in yours; is in our journey now, and will be tomorrow, and beyond.
The longest journey some of us will ever make is the journey from fear to assurance, from believing in God as a worthy idea to reliance on God as a disposition of the heart. Maybe this is the day you and I move just a little closer toward the reliance.
In John 13 we are told this about Jesus: Knowing that he had come from God, and was going to God, Jesus knelt down and began washing feet. There’s our pattern for life: Serving is what we begin to do once we discover that we have come from God and are going to God; that God is the ground of our being and the destiny of our lives.
I invite you today to trust just a little more than before God’s goodness at work in our world, and then, to the inevitable discovery that follows of the myriad ways, from A to Z, Alpha to Omega, great and small, swift and slow in which we are invited and called to share in this work of goodness. Do not be afraid, Jesus says to John, to us. I am the first and the last. I was in your beginning, am in your now, and will be in all your tomorrows that future years shall see.