We are called to care for all creatures who join the hymn of God’s creation.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary—Year C
by Tom Mundahl
Reading for Series C: 2012-2013
Acts 9: 1-6 (7-20)
John 21: 1-19
Living out the New Exodus brings more than celebration; it also exposes the old ways of death and division still to be overcome. Just as the author of Psalm 30 gives thanks for being healed from serious illness, so our readings fix attention on what must be avoided if we are to engage in what Wendell Berry calls “practicing resurrection” (Berry, The Country of Marriage, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973, p. 62).
Paul’s call as an apostle of the Risen One exposes the weakness of a religious stance based on absolute distinctions between “insiders” and “outsiders.” At the beginning of our text, we meet a Saul “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9: 1). As he travels toward Damascus to carry out his mission to arrest Jesus’ followers and bring them back for trial, he encounters the Risen One. This dramatic epiphany not only provides light that literally blinds, but also Saul hears a voice demanding, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me.” When the answer makes clear that it is Jesus, whose followers are being pursued, Saul finds himself suddenly blinded and dependent upon others to lead him into Damascus, where “for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9).
After three days of what we could call something analogous to “death,” the reluctant but willing Jewish follower of the Risen One, Ananias, enters the house where Saul is staying, lays his hands on Saul, and greets him as “Brother Saul” (9: 17). Suddenly the three days—reminiscent of Jesus’ time in the grave—are over, and Saul’s sight is restored. Immediately, he is baptized and eats. This cannot but remind us of the experience of the Emmaus disciples whose eyes are “opened” in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24: 31). Just as they threw themselves into a new life of action, so Saul will soon be immersed in seemingly endless travel as the one called to be “an instrument I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9 :15), an assignment certainly shocking to Ananias Ernst Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971, p. 328).
Once more we see the cascading “openings” that begin in Luke’s resurrection chapter (Ch. 24), where the movement goes from “opening the eyes” (v. 31), “the scriptures” (v. 32, 44), “the minds” necessary to comprehend (v. 45), and out to the whole earth (v. 47). Since this movement precedes the encounter between Peter and Cornelius which we considered last week, it is an even earlier and necessary step to understanding that all of creation—all that relates to the food system—is implicated in the new creation begun in resurrection. The movement begun in the resurrection event exposes all that divides and opens people of faith to see endless connections.
But even more is “exposed” by our reading from the Apocalypse of John. In fact, the very name apocalypse can be interpreted as “exposing” or “uncovering.” As he records his ‘visions’ on behalf of the faithful under pressure, John is acutely aware of the need to provide hope sufficient for the situation. That hope is dramatized by the wounded Lamb who is finally able to open the seals and unveil a new future for God’s creation. While many would expect this as a task assigned to a “lion,” “lamb power” subverts the audience’s all-too-real experience with the Roman Empire in Asia Minor, where special attention was paid to ensuring loyalty (Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed, Westview, p. 117.
Like Toto in “The Wizard of Oz,” John is ‘pulling back the curtain’ to expose the brutal reality of Roman rule. While the results of compliance are not nearly as gratifying as colonial peoples would expect, resistance is much more dangerous. Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza suggests that those who resist “are not able to buy or sell. Not only threat to life, imprisonment, and execution but also economic deprivation and destitution are to be suffered by those who refuse to take the mark of the beast . . . .” (The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985, p. 193). Barbara Rossing documents the extraction economy carried on by Roman overlords, especially deforestation. Timber clear-cutting, apparently, is nothing new. The Romans were able to make of this once lush landscape “a wasteland.” (Rossing, “River of Life in God’s New Jerusalem: An Ecological Vision for Earth’s Future,” Currents in Theology and Mission, Dec. 1998, p. 492)
No wonder that “all living creatures” rejoice at the appearance of the Lamb, the Risen One with “full voice!” (Revelation 5: 11-12). As John of Patmos continues, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing….” For all living creatures anticipate that the “rule of the Lamb” will provide a welcome contrast to the destruction—social and environmental—wrought by Roman imperial power. It is no wonder that “the four living creatures, representing humankind and all animals, said, “Amen!” (Revelation 4: 14)
We add our “Amen” each time we sing the “Hymn of Praise” on Sundays during this season of celebration. The text comes straight from today’s reading. But perhaps nothing is stronger than the verse:
Sing with all the people of God, and join in the hymn of all creation: blessing and honor, glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen (Evangelical Lutheran Worship p. 101).
Perhaps we cannot completely understand the Revelation to John of Patmos, but we certainly are able to join with all creation in our song! And this is a song that provides just as much resistance to our own earth-destroying culture, as it did for the earliest faithful who voiced it.
The contrast between the scarcity produced in what is now Turkey by Roman “resource mining” and John’s tale of an immense catch of fish could not be greater. Peter has been “exposed” as less than reliable by his three-fold denial of Jesus prior to the crucifixion. Much better than a simple return to Galilee to pick up the old life is the opportunity for rehabilitation. So, just as Peter denied Jesus three times by the light of a warming fire, here he is nourished by three opportunities to declare his deep allegiance (agape love) for the Risen One.
But in this resurrection world, each confession that erases a prior denial is accompanied by a call to service. Peter is enjoined to “feed the sheep” (John 21: 15-17). Even though the fish seem to pay a steep price in this narrative, the command to care for the sheep must surely extend even beyond care for the human community. That care extends to all who “join in the hymn of all creation.”
Tom Mundahl Lutheran Church of the Reformation St. Louis Park, MN firstname.lastname@example.org
For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288