Reading through the Revelation (and, in many churches, hearing from it in the current Sunday lessons) conjures up that feeling of high demand and low supply.
They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (6:10) There’s a high demand for justice, and a perception that delivery is none too quick.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (7:16-17) Sun block, AC, water – WATER, for cryin’ out loud – pain relief… we put in our orders but the message is “We appreciate your patience.”
And of course there’s the staffing problem. And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. (5:3-4)
The Revelation, as many a good scholar will tell you, is there to encourage us through the frustration: It is a story that will lead the people of God past alluring worldly pleasures and through the most harrowing darkness on their way to eternal light. Lest they lose heart or lose their way, he wants to vouchsafe to his servants special knowledge of the end of the story in outline, so they will endure and enter into the bliss he has in store for them.
Meanwhile, the supply chain seems flaky and Jesus understands. He encourages us to keep kvetching at customer service. He approves it as a form of prayer and expects us to be at it when he returns to make the whole supply chain new: And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)
More than offering distant encouragement, Jesus came to experience the empty shelves and lack of staffing and know our frustration from the inside out. As the prophetic Spirit foretold his earthly ministry, I am weary of crying; my throat is dry; my sight fails me from waiting so long for my God…I looked for some to have pity on me, but there was no one, neither have I found any to comfort me… (Psalm 69:3, 21 New Coverdale Version).
From his cross, Jesus lifted the kvetching of our humanity as he cried out Psalm 22, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Which is to say that in the Scripture itself, especially in the Psalms on which God is “enthroned” by his people (Psalm 22:3!), our complaints become a fragrant offering to God. Not all of our prayers are answered in the ways we might demand or expect, yet all of them are a pleasing offering, as again The Revelation discloses in its symbols,
And when (the Lamb) had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (5:8, emphasis added)
Our prayers are like incense, which in the ancient world was an offering devoted to a greater being. God is pleased when we approach in prayer, even bitter prayer.
Note also that the prayers are gathered together (“golden bowls full”). Yes, they are from each of us, but they are from all of us as well. People are down on church, and Covid gave yet another set of excuses to stay away, but one resource with which the shelves are pretty full is people. We need not suffer the present deprivations and frustrations alone – God has given us, well, us.
Get together. Combine your prayers, all of them – thanksgivings, kvetches, praises, petitions, confessions – whatever you have. Fill up those golden bowls with the precious incense that your fellow saints and you have to burn.
Our prayers and we are not in short supply. Nor is the love of the one to whom our prayers burn and rise.
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