Monday, December 06, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Smyrna

And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried ; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

Poor little Smyrna. This is the Job of Churches struggling to exist among the howls of protest from its accusers, holding on as best it can in a Roman-dominated culture. Indeed, Smyrna was the place of a rather spectacular temple in worship of the Emperor Tiberius, so you can imagine certain members of the Jewish population there, wishing to ingratiate themselves with the Romans, accusing the Christians of being insurrectionists. Of course, in doing so, they separated themselves from the common God that Jews and Christians worship. Of course, if the Church in Smyrna is a type of Job (or vice versa) then the Accusers have another name too - an unpleasant name with an unpleasant fate, a name which means The Accuser.

So what is poor little Smyrna's fate? Christ prophesies more suffering - more suffering. Hasn't this little group of Christians suffered enough? Ah, but Christ does not leave them without hope. First, He shows the Church that its suffering is limited - ten days. Whether this ten days is literal or allegorical or moral or anagogical is immaterial. It points to a definite end to the Smyrnans' suffering. All human suffering is limited by the end of physical life, though the length of time that one does suffer can seem endless, daunting or extreme. Christ encourages the Smyrnans to keep on despite everything. He introduces Himself as the first and the last, the One Who was dead and is alive, the One who suffered and the One who is Crowned King of Kings. And He offers exactly the same for the Church at Smyrna, a Crown of Life and exemption from the second death. Smyrna already has these riches, invisible though they may be to the naked eye. However, this little Church brought forth many martyrs, not least St Polycarp, upon whose heads this Crown of Life now rests.

Give grace, we pray Thee, Most Mighty Father, to endure the troubles and torments of the present age. Take note of those who suffer, those in misery and those in pain and enable Thy Church to succour them that they may endure only a short time in patient service to Thee, that in them the World may know of the Sacrifice on the Cross of Thine own dear Son, Jesus Christ, and that in dying with Him, they may rise with Him in Eternity, in Whose name we make this prayer. Amen.

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