From the Book of Revelation:
In appearance the locusts were like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had scales like iron breastplates, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails like scorpions, with stings, and in their tails is their power to harm people for five months. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Revelation 9:7-11 – October 25, 2012)
Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads . . . . And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev. 4:4,9-11)
From that vision came the last lines of Charles Wesley’s great hymn Love Divine, All Loves Excelling:
Till we cast our Crowns before Thee,
Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise!
In today’s reading from the Apocalypse, however, the crowns belong to some rather fanciful and frightening beasts that John called “locusts” and then proceeded to describe as anything but locusts! These are monstrous flying insects the size of horses armored for battle possessing scorpions’ tails complete with stingers. We are told that these stingers cause torment but do not kill; those stung “will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.” (v. 6)
I have to admit that I’m never sure quite what to make of or what to do with the Book of Revelation. I know it’s not a prophetic vision of the end times; it’s an apocalyptic vision meant to comfort the people of John’s own time and place (late first or early second century Roman Empire). I know that as the canon of scripture developed there was disagreement about its inclusion. But knowing those things doesn’t really help me know what to do with it now, other than to read it (as the lectionary has had us do for several days) and wonder, “What was John smoking?” This book always seems to me to be a sort of scriptural Scare Tactics or Total Blackout (Syfy channel game shows), or possibly evidence that God has a Tim-Burton-like sense of humor.
But, still, there are those lovely images of the heavenly throne room and the thought that we, unlike the horse-sized locusts, will some day cast our crowns before the throne of glory.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.