Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
— Revelation 6:1
...and he saw, and behold a white horse, a red horse, a black horse, a pale horse, each with a rider more fearsome than the one before.1 The four horsemen of the apocalypse, summoned one at a time on the breaking of the first four seals, come to warn of a terrifying future, one of political oppression, mob violence, famine and pestilence. But wait, the terror is not in what will happen, as all of this is already occurring—and as it was then so it continues today. What is terrifying is being confronted with this truth, such that it can no longer be denied. Governments are oppressing and imprisoning non-compliant citizens, mobs are forming in the streets, turning neighbour against neighbour as intolerance and anger is nurtured by the media; meanwhile the poor get poorer, unable to afford healthy food, dying from the inside, and disease rips through the land—no, not the disease of a flu virus, the far worse diseases of fear, panic and state-endorsed terrorism. As life was in 60 AD in imperial Rome, so it is today, 2,000 years on, all over the world and spreading fast. The horsemen are active—and we continue to feed their beasts.
And yet, as these four riders wreak havoc in the world, in a different, parallel reality, celebrated on this particular day, three others ride in peace, mounted on gentle camels, carrying gifts of love. The three wise men are our foils to the horsemen, countering their destruction with creation, with the nurture of new life, with the recognition of the one, the saviour, the redeemer. Will the camels triumph, or the horses? It depends who we feed. Today, at least, let us embrace the quiet, starlit magi, and side by side with them, let us walk to the kingdom, and pray for peace. The ties that bind us, human to human, are stronger than the weapons that would tear us apart.
1 The imagery of the four horsemen is drawn by John of Patmos from the works of Zechariah and Ezekiel; consider this, And I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came four chariots out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass. In the first chariot were red horses; and in the second chariot black horses; And in the third chariot white horses; and in the fourth chariot grisled and bay horses. (Zechariah 6:1-3) and this, For thus saith the Lord God; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast? (Ezekiel 14:21). As in Revelation the four horsemen carry a cryptic message of both judgment and peace, violence and redemption. Their true significance is likely to always be hidden to us, and the best we can do is tease out meaning as it occurs in our time and place.
music The Man Comes Around, Johnny Cash, 2002
music We Three Kings Of Orient Are, Kings College, Cambridge, 2009
image Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887
image Three Wise Men On Camels, stock image, common domain