Rapture in Reverse
Today’s verse is from Revelation and the entire book of Revelation, from beginning to end is a critique of empire as well as a critique of Church relationship to that empire. We don’t have to stretch our imaginations very far to understand what harmful empire and harmful Church affiliation to that empire looks like.
If you have had experiences like mine, this book is not often spoken about from the pulpit because many pastors won’t dare to get near it. If it is spoken of, the stories of impending doom, Satan’s reign, and rapture are common terms we may have heard. Revelation, preached and disseminated irresponsibly, has been used to invoke fear and exclusion. This is still happening today.
I want to assure you that this book is actually one of the most prolific and hopeful texts in the entire Christian biblical corpus. Read and taught responsibly, this apocalyptic text contains an incredibly important promises to us as children of God, as children in a liminal space, asking the question, “How long?”
As members of the LGBTQ+ community and as POC, we live in a space of perpetual liminality. What is the liminal space? The word liminal comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing.
It is often a space of discomfort as we may constantly be asking the question, “How long?” How long must we wait until justice for the oppressed is fully actualized? How long must we wait for pain, suffering, and violence to end?
What this pericope from Revelation is tellings us is that if we seek satisfaction, flourishing, or glory by modes constructed by empire, we will always be found wanting. The empire exists, lives, and feeds off of the oppression and suffering of others. This is how empire ultimately survives. It is a lie to believe that our flourishing can come from these places. We must seek flourishing through loving one another and buttressing our community of faith, reminding each other of the promise of what Jesus means to us.
In the Easter narrative, Jesus has defeated death, once and for all. It is finished. The empire is already defeated and we are waiting and anticipating the time promised for our relief, for our flourishing, and for the removal of our pain and suffering.
In the Revelation narrative, there is no rapture where “God’s elite” are caught up into a cloud and conveniently whisked away from danger. No. This story in Revelation tells us that God is coming to us. The choice of language on the part of the author regarding marriage is symbolic in that God’s new city where we are promised citizenship, is adorned and ready to be consummated by God for their children. This is a city where God dwells with us. This is a city where there is no empire, where there is no suffering, no oppression, no tears and no pain.
This portion of Revelation reveals God’s desire for God’s children to fully flourish and be with God in perpetuity. It is heaven on earth. This new space stands in stark contrast to our current conditions on earth under empire and advanced by certain Church denominations which gladly support it and falsely claim its link to Christianity; to God’s will and purpose.
What empire and these Church denominations ignore is that in this revelatory vision, empire is completely removed, there is no temple because God themself is the temple residing with humanity, and there are no closed gates. There is no exclusion. When the author says that there is no sea in the text, the author is referring to chaos. The sea represents chaos in the Hebrew Bible, and just as God is victorious over chaos in creation, God is victorious over the chaos of human oppression caused by empire.
We do not await or anticipate destruction, which some other people claiming to be Christians do. That is not what is happening in this text. What happens is transformation. We anticipate the transformation of a world filled with human oppression into a new earth where the culture of the empire is no longer. Where the culture of Empire is replaced with a culture of human flourishing, peace, and love. The boundaries fixed between heaven and earth are completely removed as well as everything that prevents human flourishing with God’s presence.
While we wait for this, Jesus tells us to love one another and that this makes some semblance of heaven present on this earth. This is our task. Let us move forward then in doing this, this act that repels empire. Let us hold each other up and lift one another up because empire will try to tear us apart. Resistance of empire is an act of holy worship unto God and may God bless all of our resistance as we anticipate the arrival of a new earth and a new heaven.
Grace and peace,
Co-Executive Director, Brave Commons