I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.’
Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
St John the Divine stands in the company of Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel in recounting a vision of the glory of God. The seer describes his overwhelming encounter with Christ, triumphant in glory. Though physically imprisoned for his faith, John’s unfettered spirit soars freely heavenward and returns to earth with a message for seven named churches in Asia Minor.
From the beginning, John is not a dispassionate observer of the churches he addresses. He is known to them, and has suffered alongside them, bearing witness to Christ in difficult times. Nor is the figure of the Son of Man (Christ) a remote one, biding his time in glory till his final return. He is alive and active in the world: revealed later as the bringer of ‘a new heaven and a new earth’.The dramatic word picture, ‘Ancient of Days’ portrayed so vividly by William Blake in all its fiery power, may capture our imagination. However, John’s vision doesn’t simply remind us of God’s ultimate power; this Son of Man shares power, cares deeply for the church he has founded. His resurrection power is available to his people.
‘Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last…’ are words addressed to John, and through him to the church, struggling to remain faithful. They have been incorporated into funeral liturgies, bringing hope and encouragement to many who hear them.
These are not words for funerals alone. They are words of promise for all time, and especially ours, caught up in the throes of a pandemic. When our distress lessens, and by the time this is published it may have, these words lose none of their power as we rebuild our communities of faith in a deeply scarred world.
Gracious God we thank you for the witness of John of Patmos whom you inspired to challenge and encourage the church. We open ourselves to the liberating power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose Spirit still works within and amongst us bidding us take heart and live out your kingdom here and now Amen
The Rev’d John A Young, retired minister of the National Synd of Scotland URC, member of Giffnock URC