Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Throughout the season of Lent we have focused on the artwork inspired by the Book of Revelation. We began with an image from the Roman catacombs of Jesus as the Alpha and the Omega. We continued with an illumination from a Medieval Bible of the Multitudes worshiping the Lamb.  We then explored two paintings of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the Dragon and the Virgin.  Last week we reflected on an illustration of the Harlot of Babylon from an early 16th century Protestant Bible. Tonight we will close with a portion of a French tapestry known as the Apocalypse Tapestry of Angers. At 10 feet in height and 150 yards length, it is undoubtedly the largest work of art inspired by the Book of Revelation.

As I have stated many times in this Lenten season, the meaning and value of the Bible’s last book has been debated since it was first recorded.  Some scholars have questioned whether it is truly a mystical vision, or an opaque, quasi-theo/political critique of the Roman Empire. Others have said that it is a liturgical dramatization of the end times. It shouldn’t be surprising that the book is often neglected in times of peace, but it speaks loudly and boldly in times of crisis. The great German World War II theologian and voice of conscience Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that Revelation never made sense to him until the rise of the Nazi Party.

Last Wednesday, we studied the dramatic climax of the Apocalypse, and its revelation of the beast and source of Evil, and so entered the Harlot of Babylon. “Babylon” is Revelation’s code name for the Roman empire, the oppressive and sinful empire whose power and influence were grounded in seduction, deceit and the enforcing threat of violence.  I believe, however, that John’s vision says something more.  It proclaims a fundamental truth of evil.  Babylons will rise up again and again in every age, and they want the world to believe that resistance against them is futile.  John’s Revelation however states that Babylon’s “reality” is a lie: there is an alternative to its culture of seduction and death. This alternative is found in the final two chapters, the New Jerusalem.  And so we turn to the Apocalypse Tapestry.

In 1373, at the height of the hundred years war between England and France, and not long after the Black Death which killed over 50 million people in Europe, Louis I the Duke of Anjou instructed Hennequin de Bruges, a Flemish painter to the court of King Charles V, to draw a group of miniatures from the final book of the Bible. Surprising for Christians today, in the 14th century, the Book of Revelation was a popular story, which focused on the heroic aspects of the last confrontation between good and evil, featuring battle scenes between angels and beasts. Hennequin de Bruges’ designs were then woven into 100 separate tapestries using vivid red, blue and gold woolen thread. This epic and monumental work, over 160 yards in length was the world’s largest known medieval tapestry.  It took nine years to complete and was then kept in a chest and rarely shown. However, it was brought out, mounted on six wooden pedestals, for special occasions such as the marriage of Louis’s son, Louis II of Anjou, to Yolande of Aragon at Arles in 1400.

It is remarkable that the tapestry still exists at all, given that during the French Revolution it was looted, cut into pieces and used as floor mats and blankets for horses. The pieces were later gathered back by the priests of the cathedral and all but 16 were found and restored.

The descriptions of the New Jerusalem in Revelation is highly detailed including the description of the city’s twelve pearly gates, foundations of precious stones, and walls and streets of gold. Alternatively, there is the description of the river that flows through the city and the tree of life that grows in the city. The New Jerusalem, as such, is a sort of new Garden of Eden. In the Apocalypse Tapestry, Jerusalem itself, is seen as a fortified medieval castle.  The city descends from Heaven under the watchful gaze of God, hanging slightly awkwardly in the air above what i the sea, which is said to be ‘passing away. John of Patmos, stands to the left, foot poised to leave the cave where he has imprisoned during his vision.

The tapestry of the Apocalypse, like the Book Revelation itself is pessimistic about the present age and where it is headed, but it is also full of hope about the age to come.  Even today, the uninitiated to the symbols of Revelation may only see chaos or catastrophe, but for those with the eyes of faith, the Book holds a wonderful promise. That is what the faithful in 14th century understood. It teaches us that every moment, and every time we choose life over death, we begin to make our own exodus, however small and tentative, out of Babylon’s prison into the space of divine blessedness which is that New Jerusalem.  Our challenge of faith is to see and believe in that promise as well.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.