The Church reads from the book of Revelation only on the Feast of Christ the King and the Sundays of Easter in Cycle B and on the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls. We contemporary Christians don’t get much practice in decoding the elaborate images and symbol system this book puts together to reflect on God’s triumph over evil in Jesus Christ.
Revelation reflects the tensions between Christians and the Roman Empire. Apocalyptic writing is a literary form somewhat like science fiction. It creates elaborate worlds in which people struggle through persecutions, famines, plagues.
This kind of writing arises as the foreign armies that occupy Israel drive the people’s own religion and worship underground. The section of Revelation we read to celebrate Mary’s assumption anticipates the happy ending of the story, God’s victory over the evil empire and salvation for God’s faithful ones.
Halfway through Revelation, its writer, John, introduces a triumphant woman shining with the sun, reigning over the moon and stars. The woman represents Israel, the people from whom the messiah was born. She represents the Christian community, whom the evil dragon persecutes. The dragon is an ancient symbol of chaos in Mesapotamian cultures. John describes the woman in ultimate victory, her child snatched from the jaws of the dragon and herself safe in a place God prepares for her.
The liturgy sees in this woman the figure of Mary, the one among the people of Israel who gave birth to the messiah. Mary also represents the Church, who gives birth in baptism to followers of the messiah.
God’s victory over evil
God’s temple in heaven opened and in the temple could be seen the ark of the covenant. A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. Because she was with child, she wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge dragon, flaming red, with seven heads and ten horns; and seven diadems on each head. Its tail swept a third of the stars from the sky and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, ready to devour her child when it should be born. She gave birth to a son — a boy who is destined to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was snatched up to God and to God’s throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where a special place had been prepared for her by God.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, “Now have salvation and power come, the reign of our God and the authority of his Anointed One.”
Revelation 11.19, 12.1-6,10
- When you imagine the Church of Christ triumphing over evil, what evil do you think of and in what does the triumph consist?