“The One Who Is and Who Was and Who Is to Come”

Revelation 1:4b-8

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.  To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.  Look!  He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.  This French quotation has been commonly translated as “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  The phrase was coined by writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, and was first written in 1849 in a monthly French journal.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same” has come to mean that sometimes what we perceive as a significant change is really not so significant.  Or that a series of groundbreaking events can cycle back to a state that are reminiscent of their beginning.

 “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  The reason I quote this phrase is that because of events over the last few years, I have to admit that I’ve been re-considering its validity.

Because there are so many things in our world that are not staying the same.

Increasingly we hear people use the phrase “unprecedented change” – in our lives, in our nation, in our world – as we continue to grapple with a seemingly unending pandemic, and especially with climate change.  The last couple of years have seen enormous disruptions and uncertainty in our lives, jobs, and families, changes in how we do business, how we use our natural resources, how we socialize, receive healthcare, educate our children – and how we gather to worship God in our church.  

Today we’re living with political polarization, and with inflation – which itself isn’t anything new, but which is certainly rearing its head in response to unique circumstances – as well as supply chain struggles and what’s being called the Great Resignation. 

Change has been called the only constant in life.  Yet even unprecedented change, in itself, isn’t new.

Consider what’s truly “unprecedented”:  the discovery of fire, or the invention of the wheel, or the compass.  How about planes, trains and automobiles?  Think about penicillin, refrigeration, and vaccinations.  Cameras, television, computers!  Today it’s artificial intelligence, or the discovery of exoplanets.

And what about paper?

In the ancient world of Judaism, Scripture was memorized and passed on orally.  The Hebrew people took papyrus technology from the Egyptians and wrote on scrolls.  Later, they wrote on sturdier parchment — dried animal skins.  These were combined into expensive book-like codices.  In the 15th century, the printing press revolutionized the world by getting Bibles into the hands of non-clergy for the first time.  Today people read the Bible on their laptops and iPads.

Think about all the ways technology has altered age-old interactions among people.  We used to talk face-to-face. Then we created the telegraph, and eventually saw a phone in every home.  Now we carry our phones, have ditched our land lines, and send text messages to avoid those pesky, lengthy human interactions.

            Previous generations wrote letters and posted them through couriers.  Then came the internet and email.  One-to-one communiqués became Facebook and Instagram posts about what cereal we ate for breakfast.  Now we’ve got tweets that squash our previously expansive thoughts into a few characters.

  My point isn’t to disparage change, which is inevitable.  Change is in the air we breathe.

  But sometimes we need an anchor in the storm.

  Amidst the life situations we find ourselves in, today’s scripture reading from the Book of Revelation can offer some hope.  And it’s based on what’s unchanging — our loving and gracious God.

   The Book of Revelation has confounded Christians for centuries.  The Scottish author and theologian William Barclay called it the “playground of religious eccentrics.”  It’s been said that the book of Revelation is like the work of a ’70s-concert poster artist on LSD.  Many people don’t even know what to think about Revelation because they’ve seen it taken captive by so many end-of-the-world street preachers. 

    Revelation’s author, considered to be the exiled John of Patmos, was writing to and about the Jewish-rooted church that was emerging in the face of imperialism.  Amidst those occupied, ruled, and persecuted by a Roman Empire that pushed its own pagan religion and claimed Caesar as god, John wrote primarily to encourage and inspire Christ’s followers to endure and remain faithful during a time of tribulation.  The Book of Revelation reflected battles being waged by the faithful in the face of a culture out of control, threatened by unenlightened leaders and pagan values.

    We read these words from Revelation today as we celebrate The Reign of Christ Sunday, the last Sunday of the church’s liturgical year.  “Christ the King,” or “Reign of Christ” Sunday isn’t an ancient festival in the Christian calendar.  It was only established by Pope Pius XI in 1925, at a time when Europe was in chaos.  Inflation was rampant, and colonialism was at its worst. The seeds of evil that would eventually grow into the Holocaust and World War II were being planted – a time of threat and instability. 

   So I’ll admit, maybe here I should re-reconsider the relevance of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  

  On this Sunday, we hear John’s words in Revelation and remember his descriptions of our Holy God.  Though the times were uncertain, John sounds the classic message:  God controls the past, present and future and is a source of comfort and peace.  God is eternal.  Unchanging.  The same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

   This passage preaches an unchanging God who sees all and can redeem all.  The final book of the Bible – while describing the ultimate future of the universe – this final book isn’t so much interested in telling us what the future holds in precise detail, but more in telling us who holds the future:  our loving God.

   Our Christian lives are based on our faith in a God who is eternally past, present and future – even if it’s an unpleasant past, or an unnerving present, or an uncertain future.  God’s reign is the power that keeps our world turning, the rain falling, and the seasons returning.  God’s reign is an expression of God’s faithful, everlasting love for each and every one of us.  No matter what comes against us in this life, no matter if all of the power of pain and chaos of the universe seems to overtake us all at once, no matter if we can’t control one single thing or fix one single thing in our lives, our God in heaven reigns.

  God is faithful to us today, was faithful to us yesterday, and will be faithful to us tomorrow.  Our God is the faithful witness who has reigned with grace and mercy, who is reigning with grace and mercy, and who will reign with grace and mercy, now and forever. Thanks be to God!  Amen