Epiphany 2, Year B
will see heaven opened”
John did so, as recorded in Revelation. We’ll come later to what he saw there and to what he heard, which was a new song.
First, today’s readings began at Mattins with a time when: “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” – the time of Eli. Somehow Hannah’s longing and her prayer for a son give voice to Israel’s need in those days of the last Judges, when corruption was rife. Eli is faltering; his eyes are dim; his authority ignored. It is not Eli but the boy Samuel - himself the answer to Hannah’s prayer - who watches the light beside the ark of the Lord. He hears the Lord calling; he responds promptly and it is he who receives the word of the Lord. It is something new from the Lord, as he Samuel is himself born from the Lord.
word in the night, in the Temple, presages something further that is new and
will unfold over time: the replacement of Eli’s line of priests, the
legitimate line, with the priesthood of Zadok and the rule of the line of David,
We might think of St Antony in days when the word of the Lord was rare and he went to the desert the better to attend on the Lord and how, from his listening heart, the Lord chose over time to unfold something new, something to reform his people: the religious life in the Church. “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
to John who, on Patmos, was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. “I looked, and
there in heaven a door stood open!”
begins to weep, because there is none found worthy. We might wonder why the One
whom John has seen seated on the throne in heaven doesn’t simply open his own
scroll. However, the scroll represents something sure, given by God to his
creatures, to all living things. It is sealed up; the connection between the
perfect life of heaven and the needs of earth is not yet complete. So the One on
the throne can hardly be seen by John: he is only ever described as “looking
like jasper and carnelian.” It needs one worthy, one who embodies the life of
earth but manifests in that life the perfection of heaven: a connector –
opening heaven to earth.
John’s weeping is ours and that of everyone over the centuries who has felt deeply the sundering of earth from the true and good life of heaven. It is longing for just rule and vindication. John’s weeping is the tears of those bereaved through murderous hatred; it is the sighing of those sickened with self-serving lies dressed up as prudence; it is the vigilance of heart of those who pray for the coming of the kingdom.
is the great hope of the ages. This is the conquering which God promised through
the many prophets to Israel. Not vengeance, after all. Justice? Yes but justice
given through self-sacrifice – a justice which ransoms the guilty at high cost
to itself - the power of God made known in human weakness.
We can guess how the revelation of this Lamb must have struck John’s first readers – there, there in the centre of heaven and accounted the one creature worthy to open the great scroll of the future, is one like themselves, battered and meek and who overcomes wrong not by wielding power but by enduring in love. A baby born in a stable, a man baptised alongside all who come needing baptism, a martyr suffering with other martyrs.
the stage of heaven bursts into song: the new song for the Lamb. “
Also the work of the Lamb is new. He ransoms, not a remnant of Israel; not even the full 12 tribes only but “saints from every tribe and language and people and nation” and has made of this unlikely and diverse flotsam of the world “a kingdom and priests serving our God”. Zadok and David both have gone multicultural and universal.
It is good to hear again this new song of heaven – the newness of this song of heaven – at the beginning of the week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In days when the air-waves are filling again with talk of a clash of civilisations, it is God who achieves new things. If we would see them, if we would see heaven opened and justice for the earth, then our hearts, like Nathanael’s in the Gospel, must be prompt to receive these new things – without guile, that is, without self-seeking, not holding on possessively to the rightness of our ways but hearing the invitation to come and see and spontaneously getting up - even from under the fig tree of the messianic bounty we have already received - drawn by continuing longing and tears for the one who is worthy and looking with a single eye to follow the Lamb.
God willing, we shall find him, the Hope of the ages, surrounded by myriads and myriads, all of whatever race or faith or creed, all who long for heaven to be opened in justice and in enduring love to the earth.
“O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things.”
Oswin Gartside CR