Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True . . . He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron . . . Revelation 19:11–15
This week an unscheduled airline layover in Central America gave me a day to explore sites related to the life and death of Archbishop Oscar Romero. I saw a robe dipped in blood—vestments worn by Romero when he was assassinated in 1980 for daring to confront abuses of a right-wing dictatorship in El Salvador.
The nation was in civil war, its military government aligned with the rich. Romero used sermons and radio messages to denounce death squads and other means of intimidating the poor. On March 24, 1980 he said this at the Divina Providencia hospital chapel in San Salvador:
“I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. . . In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.”
As Romero stepped to the altar to celebrate Eucharist, an assassin’s bullet cut him down. When I visited Romero’s nearby humble house this week, a nun showed me his vestments still stained with blood. Romero confronted powers of oppression and violence with nothing but the “sword” of the Word of God. He charged into spiritual and political battle with inspired words and changed the course of Salvadoran history, helping end dictatorship and war.
A mosaic from Pompeii (ca. 100 BC) shows Alexander the Great also charging into battle—in this case against the Persians. But Alexander has a literal sword in hand, and he intends to kill. Roman emperors in the first century routinely put similar images of themselves on coins.
Such Greek and Roman military propaganda–and Old Testament precedents–stand behind Revelation 19. But John of Patmos completely transforms the imagery! An equestrian Christ in John’s vision wears garments splattered with blood—his own blood shed at Calvary. Like Romero two millennia later, Jesus confronted powers of death and violence with the Word of God—not physical violence—and laid down his life in love.
Never underestimate the power of the spoken Word of God to bring down oppressive powers and point the way to healing of the nations.
© 2014 J. Nelson Kraybill *******************************************For more on themes of peacemaking and allegiance, see my book Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics and Devotion in the book of Revelation (Brazos, 2010) at: http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-Allegiance-Politics-Devotion-Revelation/dp/1587432617/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412944344&sr=1-1&keywords=apocalypse+and+allegiance+worship+politics+and+devotion+in+the+book+of+revelation Join me on a visit to the Holy Land! See: Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015 I invite you to enter your email address in the designated box at the edge of this webpage (if you have not already subscribed), and click Follow. You’ll get a notice every three weeks when I put up a new blog post.
5 Comments Add yours
What a superb message! Linking the Book of Revelation’s bloody robe to the assassination of Oscar Romero is ingenious.
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Nelson – thank you. I find it impossible to read Romero’s words once more without being probed by their courage, depth and clarity. He reminds us that allegiance is perhaps the critical matter in faith (not mere intellectual assent.) It was Vernard Eller, it a chapel address while I was a student at AMBS that first called my attention to the “source of the blood” in the Rev 19 text. Thanks for the associations that you have made here with that text. It is one that has suffered corruption in Christian imagination, precisely linking it more the Alexanders and Caesars of this world than to “the Lamb that was slain.” Peace to you!
Beautifully written. It brought a tear to my eye. Your words caused me to think of my walk and it challenges me greatly. Thank you, Jim
Amen! You challenge me, and all of our brothers and sisters, as always, my friend. God bless you. Jim