Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




 “The Great Ordeal”

Sunday, November 2, 2008
All Saints Meditation



Revelation 7: 9-17


Rev. Dean Snyder

In the middle of the book of Revelation is a sweet passage which envisions a great crowd before the throne of God, praising God. And God and Christ shelter the people in the crowd, and they hunger and thirst no more, they are not burned by the sun nor dehydrated by scorching heat anymore. They drink from springs of living water and God wipes every tear from their eyes.


“Who are these people?” the writer of the Book of Revelation asks. The answer is that they are the ones who have come out of the great ordeal.


The great ordeal. In the King James Version of the Bible, it was called the Great Tribulation, a concept that took on a life of its own in apocalyptic, end-time thinking. Somebody should do a dissertation.


The original Greek word was qli'yiß [thlip'-sis] which means a pressing, like pressing grapes to make wine, or pressing apples to make cider. It was a metaphor for oppression or persecution or suffering. Clearly the sweet passage in the middle of the book of Revelation was meant to be an encouragement for those who were being persecuted by the Roman Emperors, Nero and his successors, who used Christians during the time the book of Revelation was written the way Hitler used Jews as scapegoats for his own failures of leadership.  In the life to come God would shelter those who had suffered persecution. God would wipe the tears from their eyes.


There are those in this congregation who know what it is like to be persecuted for their faith – for being in a position of responsibility and fulfilling it with integrity, for being honest, for being black and proud, female and assertive, gay and open.


The older I get and the more personal stories I hear, the more I am convinced that we have no idea much of the time what is going on inside the hearts and heads of others. People who strike us as strong and competent sometimes find it almost impossible to get out of bed in the morning, and every day is an act of heroism. Every day they are pressured like grapes in a winepress. People we would not imagine live with addictions that hammer them daily like nails in a cross. People who look to us perfectly healthy carry cancers and physical illnesses in their bodies; they hold their breath from test result to test result. There are people who function well in the world but inside their heart is inconsolable grief, unhealed wounds, disappointment, self-distain, or hopelessness – pressing them in ways we cannot see.


I suspect each of us has our own great ordeal. Don’t misunderstand me, please. I am not suggesting that there aren’t those who suffer more than others. Life is not fair. It is unbelievably unfair. We are not all equal when it comes to pain. I am grateful everyday for my access to health care and knowledge and medicines that most of the world is denied. There are people – the majority of the world’s people – who suffer much more than most of us here do.


Yet I cannot help but believe that none of get out of here without our own pain. Each of us has our own great ordeal. The writer of Revelation is saying that God knows our ordeals and God honors them.


None of us should cling to our ordeals. For God’s sake, go to the doctor if you have physical pain, see a therapist or a counselor if you have emotional pain, see a clergyperson if you have spiritual pain.


But not all ordeals can be healed by medicine or therapy – none of us live our lives and die our deaths without our ordeals. The book of Revelation says God knows our ordeals and honors them. It says that it is our ordeals that give us music to sing and voices to worship. It is our ordeals that bring us into the presence of God who in Christ knows our ordeals because Christ had his own great ordeal.


I know a man. You would think he was one of the most successful men in the world. Inside he carries wounds from childhood you couldn’t imagine. Fortunately he is getting help but the help is an ordeal.


I know a woman. You would think that she is almost ruthlessly competent. She closes her office door, turns music onto her computer so no one can hear her, and weeps almost every day. I pray someday she gets the help she needs.


This is life here and now in this world.


Whatever there is other than this life here and now in this world, I am convinced it is a realm of music and laughter.  There are tears there, too, but God wipes the tears away. God has tenderly washed away the tears of those who have gone before us. And God will tenderly wash away your tears and mine. We know this because God already does.