For most of Eastertide, the first matins readings come from the Apocalypse and the letters of the Apostle John. Indeed, the Book of Revelation fills most of this space. Why?
Why does the Church spend so much time with such a strange book in the great season of joy?
Because Revelation is about the course of each human life, and of history as a whole, as radically qualified by the victory of the slain and resurrected Jesus.
This victory is operative throughout even the most nightmarish passages of time (making it authentic good news), and the vision John receives therefore is filled with nightmare images. That fact, I think, is what makes the Book of Revelation so forbidding.
It is certainly the case that “Left Behind” eschatology has reinforced a tendency long contaminating Christian spirituality (which Ratzinger powerfully analyzes at the beginning of his brilliant book Eschatology)--a tendency to fear the Second Coming of Jesus and the Last Judgment. This is a sad perversity, for the primitive Christian hope is indeed the deep cry, “Come, Lord Jesus.” If a certain spirituality leads to apprehensiveness, or even reticence, about the decisive consummation of history, you can be sure it is false.
Three great nested cycles of seven take up the bulk of Revelation: the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls of wrath.
The seventh of one series includes the first of the next. It all begins with the scroll of history, sealed with seven seals, that no one but the slaughtered Lamb can open. He has earned the right to open the book of history because He has “conquered.” But He has conquered in the strangest way, by giving Himself up out of love to be sacrificed:
“Worthy art Thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for Thou wast slain and by Thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation…” (Rev 5:9).
The self-sacrificial love-offering of the God-man opens the interiority of history to be radically qualified by the Father’s plan of loving goodness.
War, terror, famine, even death and hell, though in no way becoming good in themselves, do not escape the sovereignty of the God Who loves to the end, for divine love absorbs the deepest hellishness and renders heaven in return.
You know something of this dynamism if you have loved someone through an ordeal that shakes the soul. What remains of love after tribulation is pure and divine and deathless.
What Revelation describes is not our future alone, but our past and our present also: terror, yes, but terror in the process of being swallowed up by love. The eastering of history is the slow dawn that keeps infiltrating and permeating the marrow of time. The joy of Easter wells up from the reality that love is, in very fact, conquering all.