St. Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, quotes Psalm 44:22 (“As it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered’” 8:36). He then responds with the quote above and goes on to stress that nothing can separate humanity from God. Often Romans is read through the lens of personal suffering and trial, which can give the reader encouragement and strength in times of difficulty.
Rome in Paul’s time is certainly hostile to individual Christians, and will be for centuries, until the empire coopts Christianity in order to neutralize its critique. Paul’s use of Psalm 44, however, points us to a larger, communal reality that our study of Revelation speaks to as well.
When Paul talks about the flesh in Romans, the Greek sarx speaks more to the façade or the ego-projection of our identities, the ways we want others to see and think about us. In other words, Paul is calling for Christians to live in vulnerability and honesty rather than guarded and afraid of the opinions of others.
In the context of Empire, Christ has called both Paul and John of Patmos to build up communities of resistance against death-dealing forces and ideologies. Fear isthe primary tool Empire utilizes to manipulate people, either the fear of shame and humiliation, the fear of poverty and economic exclusion, the fear of imprisonment, or the ultimate fear underlying all other fears: death.
Being a Christ-follower, according to these two early church leaders, is committing to live without fear of Empire, and therefore without fear of death. Some might wonder whether we are devaluing our lives if we do not fear losing them, as if we might risk them haphazardly.
By refusing to be afraid of the threat of death (literal or metaphorical), we are affirming the value of our lives, lives that were designed for freedom from fear and dominance. Christ Himself, the Slaughtered Lamb in Revelation, arrives vulnerable and seemingly powerless in the face of Empire, yet even death cannot stop Him from ushering in the New Jerusalem
and the reign of God.
Beginning this month, we will be listening to the Hebrew prophets as they teach us about the threat of idolatry (the substitution of a human-made construction for the worship of God). We will be looking at our current context, and in partic- ular the power and pervasiveness of white supremacy in the United States ofAmerica. Instead of seeing white supremacy as a fringe ideology held by segregationists, we will consider how the racial category of “white” is itself a modernday idol, perpetuating fear and separating us from God.
We will follow the call of Paul and John to be a fundamentally different kind of conqueror, one that uses the strength of vulnerability and honesty to disrupt and overthrow the death-dealing forces of Empire and the idolatry of whiteness. As followers of Christ, we will rely on the power of the Lamb,“who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us”. (Romans 8:34)
In Peace and With Love,