Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Empire

Thursday, November 8, 2007 -- Week of Proper 26

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
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Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 990)
Psalms [70], 71 (morning) 74 (evening)
Ezra 7:(1-10)11-26
Revelation 14:1-13
Matthew 14:1-12

In our gospel reading we get a poignant story of the violence and cruelty that is part of the experience of living under the Empire. In Matthew's version, Herod has John the Baptist decapitated on a whim, because of his wife's young daughter.

The book of Revelation is a response to the threat of life under the Empire. In the previous chapter John offers images of two beasts that represent the political power of the Empire and the civic power of the Empire, its economic and religious domination. Today's reading moves the perspective to the Empire's opposite, the Lamb. The number of the faithful gathered around the Lamb is 144,000 -- a number combining 12 (God's people) and multiples of 10 (all). The forehead represents human spirit and worship. These have been faithful and pure in their worship and allegiance to God -- their spirit is virginal, pure. They have not drunk "of the wine of the ...fornication" of Empire. There is probably a connection with the purification that is required before embarking on holy war, which is usually a spiritual or inward struggle, in Islam and other faiths.

An angel announces the hour of judgment. A second angel announces the fall of Babylon (Rome). A third announces the reversal of fate -- those who have worshipped the beast -- given allegiance to the Empire's cult; surrendered their spirit and worship (forehead) and given their work and activity (right hands) to the Empire's purpose and materialism -- will live with torment and have no rest, which is the present condition of the church in its posture of resistance to Empire.

Then John gets to the punch line -- the purpose of the creative composition. "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus."

The warfare is the holy struggle of the faithful to persevere steadfast in their allegiance to God in the face of the temptations of economic and political wealth, power and luxury and the concomitant acknowledgment of the Empire's civic cult.

We live in a time of similar temptations. The lure of wealth and possessions; the pretensions to power; the cult of American Empire is not unlike the influences that John's Revelation challenges with his visions. Do we follow God or Empire? Where is our allegiance?


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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
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At 12:33 PM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

Still struggling through "Revelations."
I don't see the same connection between imperial Rome and the "American Empire" as you make in your comments today.
The notion of an "American Empire" is popular around the world and a natural outcome of America's military and economic growth as well as the cultural impact of it's freedoms of speech and religion on the rest of the world. Unlike earlier empires, we the people are responsible for the actions of our government. I personally do not think the American people would vote in favor of establishing an empire, but they are in favor of a strong defense. In the process of establishing a strong defense we tend to slide towards empire as we pursue "enemies" further and further from our borders. In addition, our freedoms are offensive to some for they see the results of liberty which can be the freedom to commit blasphemy, immoral behavior etc.
Some see America as morally bankrupt. Are you one of those? Is there another emerging empire that you would favor to replace America?

At 10:17 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

I am among a number of people who are very troubled by the adoption of neo-conservative "empire-like" political policies, and the way that the Bush administration has compromised traditional limitations of executive power that characterize our republican structure. There are many traits of the Bush-Cheney administration that have empire flavor.

Some of the best conversation about this comes from the evangelical publication Sojourners (on-line and in print). You might go to (I think) and do a search on "empire" to see some articles. You'll have to register, but they don't share your info.



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