Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr

So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and cut the earth’s vintage.
He threw it into the great wine press of God’s fury.

As a sixth-grader I used to walk the half-mile from school to home. One day I happened upon a vest pocket sized New Testament, probably the King James Version. That’s when I learned to read while walking; and I began, of course, at the end of the book, with “Revelation.”

The language and imagery are so compelling, even a sixth grader can read it. Whose imagination would not shudder with the imagery of an angel, sickle in hand, gathering the crops of wheat and grape? Who can misunderstand the threat of “the great wine press of God’s fury?”

It is nonetheless ironic that such a joyous pastoral image, the wine press, would signify God’s wrath. Saint John uses irony used with amazing effect, when he describes Jesus as clothed in purple, crowned with thorns, and hailed as king. Not only is he truly our king, he could appear as our Savior and Lord only by wearing a costume of suffering and mockery. We could not worship a Messiah decked out in gold, silver and ermine.

An overflowing wine press in autumn, I suppose, should be the site of great rejoicing. The farmer and his family must celebrate the bounty of their vineyard. We’re all familiar with joyous images of men and women dancing barefooted in the winepress as the juice of the grape flows into fresh wineskins.

But the juice is red like blood, at least in some vineyards, and the image may evoke other memories. Veterans are especially adept at noticing unnerving similarities between cooking smells and carnage, burning firewood and firebombed buildings, firecrackers and RPGs. 

The scriptures in general and Revelation in particular never venture far from images of violence. Not for them the pastoral scenes of half-dressed boys and girls dancing to the shepherd’s pipe. That innocence was lost in the second chapter of Genesis. Our imagination is harsher, remembering how we struggled to survive under the burden of Egyptian, Greek and Roman oppressors. Even our own rulers -- Rehoboam, Ahab, Herod -- are remembered for their violence rather than their just, merciful rule.

Our scriptures teach us to sing "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Coming of the Lord; he has trampled out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored."

We pray for the coming of that Day of the Lord when God's justice and mercy are established once and for all; and we will shout with Doctor Martin Luther King, "Thank God Almighty we are free at last."  

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.