Thursday, November 01, 2007

The First Five Seals of the Apocalypse

Thursday, November 1, 2007 -- Week of Proper 25
(All Saints' Day)

"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
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

Audio Podcasts of today's "Morning Reflection" and those from the past week are available from (go to St. Paul's Home Page and click "Morning Reflection podcast")

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer)

EITHER the readings for Thursday of Proper 25 (p. 990)
Psalms 50 (morning) [59, 60] or 103 (evening)
Nehemiah 1:1-11
Revelation 5:11 - 6:11
Matthew 13:18-23

OR the readings for All Saints Day (p. 1000)
Morning Prayer:
Psalms 111, 112; 2 Esdras* 2:42-47; Hebrews 11:32 - 12:2
Evening Prayer:
Psalms 148, 150; Wisdom 5:1-5, 14-16; Revelation 21:1-4, 22 - 22:5

*note: 2 Esdras is found in the Apocrypha; it is a Christian composition, dated between 130 and 250 CE; chapters 1-2 of 2 Esdras are also called 5 Ezra as scholars try to distinguish the manuscripts of the composite book

I chose the readings for Thursday of Proper 25

The word "apocalypse" in popular usage tends to reference cataclysmic disaster and destruction. That is not what the word means in Greek or in Biblical usage. The root of the Greek apokalypsis means "to uncover," as in to reveal or make known. The traditional Latin translation is revelatio -- disclosure or revelation. The meaning suggests that there is more here than meets the eye. Deeper, hidden meanings are being revealed. Look at the events of history; below and behind and above them is a significance that can only be appreciated when the veil is removed from ordinary perception to reveal the true, underlying meaning.

In the book of the Revelation, there is a struggle. We will either follow Jesus through that struggle -- follow his path through temptation, suffering and death -- or we will follow the tempting way of the world. (In this case, the lure of luxury and materialism of the Greco-Roman empire.)

Today we see the consequences of following this way of the world. The veil is lifted for us to see the reality of human destructiveness.

Four is a symbolic number representing the created order. As the Lamb begins to open the seven seals, the four living creatures speak "Come!" to each of the first four seals.

Called forth from the first seal is a white horse; the rider carries a bow; he receives a crown and is a conqueror. This is a symbol of the military conqueror. (Jesus is never imaged with a bow.) With the coming of this creature, the reader knows that war is the consequence. From the second seal comes a red horse whose rider takes peace from the earth with a great sword, causing (red) bloodshed. The third seal reveals the black horse and its rider bringing famine. Only the crops that don't require yearly planting survive, olive oil and wine. With the fourth seal is revealed the pale green horse of death, the color of rotting flesh.

This is what human destructiveness brings to God's creation.

But we continue today on to the opening of the fifth seal. From beneath the altar come the souls of those who have been slaughtered for their testimony. These are the victims of injustice. Their deaths cry to heaven for justice and divine vengeance. The judgment is delayed "until the number would be complete." God's delay is not weakness, but patient forbearance. Be assured, says John, God's justice will prevail.

Sometimes reading Revelation can be like reading the newspaper or history. In imaginative language, John pictures the horror and suffering of war, and its inevitable consequences. In every war more noncombatants are killed than soldiers. Famine and disease are the greatest weapons of mass destruction. But those who suffer from this horrible sacrifice are taken to the altar of God. We await God's justice.


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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
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.


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