The Book of Revelation is a source of much conversation and speculation. Its wild images and often terrifying beasts and battles can make it hard to find hope, love, or grace in its pages. Martin Luther found the whole of John’s Apocalypse to be so unhelpful to faith that he thought it should be plucked from the canon of scripture.
The news right now is filled with stories about war and suffering in Afghanistan, earthquake, violence, and storm in Haiti, pandemic around the world and in our own neighborhoods. Violence and division are nearly everywhere. Wildfires rage and the climate is changing to the point that suffering and damage is becoming very real to more and more people. It all reminds me of the 6th chapter of Revelation, where the Four Horsemen come calling.
The first rider on a white horse brings conquest and oppression, (Revelation 6:1-2) which creates victims, refugees, injustice, and suffering. I think of Afghanistan writhing in pain over another power struggle in their long history. Whether foreign powers have come to conquer or “help,” the result has been suffering.
The second rider on a red horse takes, “peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another.” (6:4) I think of war, but also of the daily shootings, hatred, and division all around us. We are a species at war with ourselves, tearing each other apart instead of living together in peace.
The third horse is black and holds “a pair of scales in his hand, and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s pay, and three quarts of barley for a day’s pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!”” (6:5-6) Here, the poor can’t afford to eat (or find housing or childcare) while the rich have plenty of the luxuries of life and get richer day by day. It is an accurate portrayal of the world we currently inhabit.
The fourth horse is green, and the rider brings death through “sword, famine, and pestilence.” Covid-19 is the third leading cause of death in the world, behind heart disease, and cancer. Vaccines can abate the death wrought by pandemic. Healthier living can reduce the incidence of heart and cancer deaths. Yet, we reject what we can do to live. Climate change is ramping up the destructive forces of weather around the globe.
We are living in a world where these four horses run unrestrained. Does that mean the “end is near, and it is all coming true?” Not really. The horsemen are constant parts of human history for as long as there has been history. The riders run free because the sin and evil, the stubbornness and selfishness of humanity leave them unbridled.
Revelation does not end here. In the 19th chapter, another rider rises a pale horse bringing righteous judgment and an end to the tyranny of oppression, violence, injustice/famine, and death. That rider is Christ. The message of the Book of Revelation is that these present sufferings are not the final word, and that God will reign in Christ; that all tears will be wiped away; that all that is wrought by the evil of the world will be overcome.
The only future vision that the Book of Revelation predicts is of a new, redeemed world unbound from the power of death and destruction. Trusting that vision leads us not to live in fear and passively wait to be taken out of this world by some heavenly escape hatch. Instead, it calls us to live into the vision of the world to come – to feed the hungry, work for justice, stand against injustice and oppression. It calls us to fight death and embrace living. In the face of the four horsemen riding though our lives this day, you can do something.
Pray for Afghanistan. Pray that those fleeing may find rest and a home. Pray that women and children are safe. Pray in thanksgiving for the work done by our military that advanced the cause of justice and freedom these last twenty years. Pray for the people to stand against oppression and stand up for themselves. Pray that the peace brought by the Lamb of God comes to that ravaged land.
Support efforts to give aid to the people of Haiti and other places in this world facing the disasters happening this day. Give to Lutheran Disaster Response, who are already on the ground and active. https://www.holytrinityankeny.org/giving-funds.html
Get vaccinated and wear a mask. It is not a political or ideological decision. Instead, it is the embrace of life and love of neighbor. Reconcile with those who have wronged you and make peace with those who disagree with you. In as much as it is in your power, end violence and division by being a force of love and peace.
You are the Beloved Community, and you can dismount the deadly riders that roam our world with your love, grace and mercy.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor