I've never been a big fan of Grimm's fairy tales. I know it's almost required that parents share these tried and not-so-true tales with their little ones, but I'm not so sure that some of Grimm's story lines are suitable for little ears. After all, Snow White gets sacked by a poison apple given to her by a wicked witch. Rumpelstiltskin meets his angry and gruesome demise by sinking into a pit and tearing himself in two. And Little Red Riding Hood is rescued from the jaws of a wolf by a hunter cuts open her prowling predator, fills him with stones, and then throws him into a well where he drowns. Yikes! Grimm's fairy tales, quite frankly, seem much too grim to me to be read to small children.
Out of all of Grimm's fairy tales, it is perhaps the story of Hansel and Gretel which disturbs me most. An evil stepmother who convinces her husband to abandon his children in the wilderness? A wicked woman who captures and tries to cook these two youngsters only to have the children turn the tables on her and shove her in the oven instead? Are you sure this is a fairy tale for children? It sounds more like a horror movie barely suitable for adults to me.
I must confess that, as I read through Revelation, I can sometimes feel as if I'm reading one of Grimm's gruesome legends. This is especially true of our reading for today from Revelation 19. Everything begins beautifully: "After this I hard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments" (verses 1-2). That sounds pleasant enough. A heavenly chorus is singing praises to God. But by the end of the chapter, we are left with this scene: "The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh" (verse 21). Well that's a pleasant takeaway: Birds gorging themselves on human flesh.
Though this may all seem a little "grim" at first, John is actually aiming for a happy ending to his tale, not a ghastly one. For at the same time we see birds feasting on earthly flesh, there is another heavenly feast also taking place. It is "the wedding supper of the Lamb" (verse 9)! And those who get to partake of such a feast do not languish in a diner's dread, but rejoice in God's sumptuous blessing (cf. verse 9). Who gets to partake of such a fine feast? Those who "are given fine linen, bright and clean" (verse 8). These laundered linens, of course, are those which have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. In other words, it is those who trust in Christ who get invited to this blissful banquet. And that means we are invited. For we have received our invitation to this holy meal at the foot of the cross where the Lamb shed his blood.
Sadly, those who do not trust in Christ have to attend the other, more macabre meal. Those who refuse to feast with the Lamb instead have the tables turned on them and become themselves food for God's judgment, just like the wicked woman in Hansel and Gretel. But unlike Hansel and Gretel, this is no fairy tale. This is absolutely true. As the angel in John's vision reminds us, "These are the true words of God" (verse 9).
John's dual feasts paint starkly contrasting pictures. But John is not trying to turn our stomachs with some "Fear Factor" styled gastrointestinal curdling culinary challenge; rather, he is simply seeking to warn us: "You do not want to be a part of the earthly feast of judgment, especially since you can be a part of the heavenly feast of blessing. Simply wear the linen of the Lamb." I hope you're dressed for supper.