Scripture: Revelations 8:1-13
Stephen B. Oates is a former professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA and an award-winning author. He wrote several biographies of Americans profoundly affected by the moral paradox of slavery and racial oppression in a land based on the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.
He is the author of “With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln,” “To Purge This Land with Blood: A Biography of John Brown,” and “The Fire of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion.”
His fourth biography is entitled, “Let The Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr.” As Oates saw it, King’s life was a continuation of the fight of Lincoln, Brown, and Turner against racial injustice and the bringing to fruition their century-old visions of emancipation.
“Let The Trumpet Sound” brought to life the private individual with aspirations, self-doubt, and inner struggle, as well as the public figure, a history making leader whose hard earned victories changed the course of race relations in America. King’s use of nonviolent social action brought into existence federal laws that changed the face of American society. The tried and proven use of nonviolent social action is what is needed to deliver the final blow to racial injustice the remnant of America’s original sin of chattel slavery.
The forwarding page of Oates’ book contains a quote from 1 Corinthians 15:52: “For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” He could have very well sited the words of our text, Revelation Chapter 8, as the trumpet sounds initiating the final judgment of God upon racial injustice in America.
“And when the Angel opened the seventh seal,” John said in Verse 1 that there was a half hour of silence in heaven. Silence according to biblical scholars is the language of heaven surrounding the mystery of God. God speaks in the silence. For John, the impending judgment of creation is initiated by the creator God self.
The murder of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, MN on May 25, 2020 has unleased a lot of noise across the country. The pent up anger, frustration, and rage over military policing, racial injustice, and the disregard for Black life came to a boiling point and the noise of chanting, gunfire of rubber bullets, looting, destruction of property were heard across the country.
From Minneapolis to Denver to Seattle to Los Angeles to Santa Monica, to Long Beach to Washington D.C., the noise of unrest and civil disobedience was being heard.
While there was noise across the country, there was silence in heaven. For silence is the language of heaven surrounding the mystery of God. The eradication of inequity and injustice is sacred work. Sacred work requires sacred means. Dr. King said it best, “means are ends in process.” You can’t achieve sacred ends through “any means necessary.” You can only achieve sacred ends through sacred means. You can only achieve peaceful and productive ends through nonviolent peaceful means. Soul force is still the most powerful force in creation. And when we use that force, the force will be with us.
There is silence in heaven because God is declaring the final judgement on racial injustice in America. Let the trumpet sound because the end is near. The failure of our nation to adequately address the consequences of its original sin of slavery upon former slaves and former slavers has become too heavy a burden for the nation to bear.
California Governor Gavin Newsom made the point profoundly on June 1, 2020. He said, in essence, that the civil unrest that we have seen and heard over the death of George Floyd was not the responsibility of the Black community, but the white community and the institutions that have not been responsible and accountable [for its racial injustice]. Further, he went on to say that he was lost for words in trying to explain to his pre-adolescence and adolescence children why the police held their knee on a Black man’s neck for nearly nine minutes while handcuffed with his hands behind his back, lying face down on the ground.
Structural systems of racism are changing. Military policing has been proven to be what it is a modern day tactic of fear upon African Americans and is being done away with. Police training in apprehending suspects is being revised. Choke holds and knees on the necks of suspects are being outlawed. Sensitivity education to the cultural nuances of the diverse communities of our nation is being implemented. God is declaring the final judgement on racial injustice in America.
After the Angel opened the seventh seal, John goes on to say in Verse 2 that the seven angels were given seven trumpets. Let me hasten to say that John’s revelation is not from one of the casinos were 777 hits the jackpot. John is not in Las Vegas. He is not at Pechanga or Morongo. He is not at Hollywood Park or Hawaiian Gardens or any other casino. John’s revelation is from the throne behind heaven’s door and his use of the number seven is symbolic representing the finality or the completeness of God’s judgment. When God judges God’s creation, nobody will be able to stand the judgment. Nobody will be exempt from the judgment. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the creator.
In the midst of the impending judgment and the wrath of the Lamb, John says in Verse 3 that there was another angel that stood on the altar with a golden censer of incense offered with it the prayers of the saints. In the midst of the thundering, and the lightning, and the quaking, and the shaking, and the rattling, and the rolling, God heard the prayers of the saints vindicating their righteousness (VV.3-5). God heard the prayers of the saints vindicating their righteousness.
Church, God hears the prayers of the saints. If we ever needed to pray, we sure do need to now. I appreciated the protestors when they kneeled on their knees in front of the police for five minutes to prayer. If we can’t be on the front line of the protest, we can have their backs with our prayers. God hears the prayers of the saints.
In Verses 7, the angels prepare to let their trumpets sound. The destruction and devastation that follows is familiar to John readers/hearers because it resembles that of the plagues of God upon Pharaoh and Egypt in the Exodus. The destruction of the first angel of hail and fire resembles the eight plague in Exodus 9:22-25. The destruction of the second angel of the sea John says in Verse 8 of the text resembled that of the second plague in Exodus 7:14-21 when the water turned to blood causing everything in them to die.
The destruction of the third angel, John said in Verse 10, was a great star that fell from heaven. It was not some astrological coincidence or some freak act of nature or some scientific phenomenon. It was what Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann might characterize as the judgment of God upon creation that refused to acknowledge God as Creator.
God started it all and God will end it all. God is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. This is still my Father’s world.
And then John concludes this chapter of his revelation in Verse 12 by saying that the destruction he saw of the fourth angel when he let his trumpet sound resembled that of the ninth plague of God upon Pharaoh and Egypt in Exodus 10:21-22, where there were three days of thick darkness in all the land.
John says in Verse 13 that the sun was smitten, and the moon was smitten, and the stars were smitten and the day shone not. When creation refuses to see the light, God brings darkness. That’s what we have seen in the last few days of rioting, and looting, and curfews. We have seen darkness in the human spirit.
That’s also what happened on the hill called Calvary. Mark 15:27 says that when they crucified Jesus between the sixth and the ninth hour, darkness was over the whole land. In Verse 39, when the centurion who stood over against Jesus, saw him cry out and give up the ghost he said, truly this man was the Son of God.
One of these days the creation will echo the sentiment of the centurion that Jesus is the light of the world.
“Walk in the light, beautiful light. Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright. Shine all around us by day and by night. Jesus the light of the world.”
The Rev. Dr. Kelvin T. Calloway, Sr., is the senior pastor of Bethel AME Church in Los Angeles.