It’s Pouring

Wednesday, November 5, 2014 – Proper 26, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 72 (morning) // 119:73-96 (evening)

Ecclesiasticus 43:23-33

Revelation 16:1-11

Luke 13:10-17

It poured rain all day yesterday. Although the steady downpour was more dreary than destructive, today’s second reading reminds me of yesterday’s weather. In this reading, a voice commands seven angels to “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” One by one, the angels pour out their bowls, and the inhabitants of the earth are drenched in relentless waves of God’s anger.

I’m struck today by how different this imagery of pouring is from other Biblical passages. For example, in the book of Isaiah, God’s word is like rain that waters the earth and makes it flourish and grow nourishing things (55:10-11). And in the famous hymn from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, God pours himself out in the form of Christ, who empties himself and humbles himself in order to serve humankind (2:5-11). In these passages, God pours himself onto the earth as a way of nurturing and serving us.

But in today’s passage from Revelation, the angels pour out bowls of wrath that cause disease, that kill all sea creatures, that make water undrinkable, and that permit the sun to scorch people. When the angels pour out their bowls, the earth becomes an uninhabitable and parched place.

The author also reports that an angel is delighted when God fittingly turns all fresh water sources into blood: “because they shed the blood of saints and prophets, you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” But, again by way of contrast, the meaning of the blood that God has given us to drink is quite different in our Eucharistic celebrations. This blood has been shed by us, and yet also poured out for us, so that those who drink it will offer themselves for Jesus’ vision of a just and non-violent world.

How can we reconcile these different images of God pouring himself from heaven to earth? Perhaps like a dismally rainy day, our experience of this imagery can depend on how we frame it. Does God pour himself out to sustain life and make it abundant, or does God empty himself on us to punish and make us miserable?

One way to deal with these discrepancies is to add our own voices to the voice in today’s reading that asks the angels to empty their bowls of the wrath of God. By pouring out their bowls, they will leave all containers for and concepts of God’s anger hollow, vacant, bankrupt. Then God will have nothing to pour out but his very self, which is nothing but self-emptying love.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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