By Pamela Lewis

A Reading from Revelation 18:21-24

21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,
“With such violence Babylon the great city
will be thrown down,
and will be found no more;
22 and the sound of harpists and minstrels and of flautists and trumpeters
will be heard in you no more;
and an artisan of any trade
will be found in you no more;
and the sound of the millstone
will be heard in you no more;
23 and the light of a lamp
will shine in you no more;
and the voice of bridegroom and bride
will be heard in you no more;
for your merchants were the magnates of the earth,
and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.
24 And in you was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
and of all who have been slaughtered on earth.”

Meditation

Scholars have long debated whether the Babylon in this chapter of Revelation is a religious manifestation or a commercial and material one, and also whether it is a literal or symbolic city. Regardless of which one it is, both Babylons are under God’s judgment; they are ruled by the Antichrist, enshrouded in sin and blasphemy; both hate the saints and shed their blood; and both will be destroyed.

Economic nerve center of world trade, the Babylon which is thrown down by the great millstone God’s mighty angel casts into the sea is the kind of bustling commercial city that would be familiar to contemporary urbanites. Its lure is like that of an addictive drug, prepared by the city’s “sorceries” (from the Greek pharmakeia, to prepare a drug), and fed by deception. From beneath the poetry of these verses, Saint John reveals the image of a city reduced to nothing, where all that had made Babylon a vital metropolis is annihilated so that there is “no more” of what was. Where merchants — rather than priests — were once the great men of the earth, commerce comes to a halt.

The ongoing pandemic has inspired apocalyptic imaginings and references in both secular and religious writings, and the restrictions and lockdowns imposed on the world’s vibrant cities (which, in the minds of some, are latter-day Babylons) evoke Revelations’ imagery. We have been in a period of no more entertainment, business, weddings, or even funerals as we have known them.

The blood of our prophets and saints has been shed by the pandemic’s deadly scythe. But perhaps our great cities are symbolic, as was Babylon in John’s vision, of the larger world system that persecutes and oppresses today’s saints and prophets, who are God’s own. God takes persecution and oppression as a personal offense, as those who attack his own really attack him.

Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New YorkerEpiscopal Journal, and The Living Church.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Highveld (Anglican Church of Southern Africa)
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, La.