13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" 14 I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
These are they who have come out of the great ordeal. . .
Well, that covers a multitude of situations in life, doesn't it? Historically, the author of Revelation undoubtedly has a specific ordeal in mind, probably one of the first major persecutions of the Christians. Would that that had been the only ordeal.
Life itself can be an ordeal. An ordeal made worse by the knowledge that it didn't have to be that way. I remember an elderly woman in one of my parishes, who upon the death of her spouse of 64 years reflected on what had been a difficult marriage at best. She had two things to say. "Pastor, when you say 'for better or worse' you have to realize that there will be some times that are worse." And then: "But it could have been so much better." She is one who had come out of "the great ordeal".
A woman, having been raped hours before by one she loved, collapses on the floor of my office. The great ordeal.
A couple, having faced more than enough challenges in life as it was, woke up to the horrifying sound of their daughter's alarm clock ringing. Alison had been killed in an automobile crash the night before. Desperately they tried to silence the alarm, but they could not. It was the moment that amid all the shock of what had happened the reality set it -- their daughter would wake up no more. The great ordeal.
For me, one of the most difficult times of my life was reaching my rock bottom brought on by alcoholism. There was the gradual descent. The loss of control. Nearly the loss of my life. And the utter humiliation of hospitalization and the admission that I am an alcoholic. The great ordeal.
Would that we might have been spared all these things. But we were not. Perhaps, even we could not be spared. That's simply not the way life is. There simply will be times great and small that are a "great ordeal". No exceptions. If nothing else, we will all have to face our own death, timely or otherwise, and that alone is a "great ordeal".
The promise is not that we will be spared, but that we will come out of it. "These are they that have come out of the great ordeal." There is no better messenger of hope for one that is in the midst of a great ordeal, than the witness of one who has been through it and come out of it. The grace of "coming out" is that we weren't destroyed by it.
But, there is more. To speak of Christ's "passion", is to speak of his "compassion", a suffering with those who suffer, who are in the midst of the great ordeal. There we encounter suffering. There also, we encounter the Crucified One who meets us in our suffering and sees us through to the other side. That there are those who have "come out" is a promise that there is a way out, that suffering will not be the final word, and the Christ will lead us through it to the other side.
Post Script: To those of you who thought my blog entry "Coming Out" would bring a particular revelation about me, sorry. Though I should acknowledge that coming out in that way, is also a place where many have encountered Christ, and the end of their own "great ordeal".