The Common Good

Ramadan Karim: Revelation

Sojomail - August 16, 2012

 GUEST COMMENTARY by Lisa Sharon Harper

Ramadan Karim: Revelation

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It was the summer of 1994 and about 10 friends and I sat huddled around Bibles in my friend’s living room. It was a “scripture party.” The lights were dim and the air was full of anticipation and mystery. We did not know what God might reveal as we opened the book of Revelation and read it out loud, in community, in one night.

This bears resemblance to the way the early church would have read the scripture. They were an oral culture, not a written one. The Hebrew Bible was written on scrolls that were read aloud to congregations. Most of the New Testament was written as letters to the worshiping bodies of whole cities (i.e. the saints in Ephesus, the church in Philippi, the body in Corinth, etc.). When received, the letters would be read out loud to the whole church community and received as God’s instruction revealed through the apostles for the edification of their communities.

Imagine being one of the very first followers of the Jesus “Way” (Acts 9:2).

Imagine being a persecuted religious group. You have to use code — the sign of the ichthys — to identify yourself to other believers for fear of religious persecution. Only when you are gathered together in secret can you speak openly about your faith. Only then can you be fully known and appreciated for your whole image of God that lives inside of you.

Imagine huddling in a secret meeting place and reading the Apostle John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ for your nascent faith community in Ephesus or Smyrna, or Pergamum, or Thyatira, or Sardis, or Philadelphia, or Laodicea (Revelation 2-3). Imagine living in Ephesus and reading Paul’s prayer for your church to understand its hope and inheritance (Ephesians 1:17-2:22).

And imagine being rich in the early church and hearing James’ letter warning: “Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your field, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”

Imagine hearing it all for the first time. It all feels so real. The call to holiness feels so urgent because God feels so present.

This week marks the final week of the fast of Ramadan. Ramadan is the month when it is believed the prophet Muhammad received the revelation of the Qur’an. Throughout the month Islamic communities around the world fast, pray, and gather together each night to listen as the entire Qur’an is read aloud over the course of the month.

A dear friend in New York City knew that I was going to be in town earlier this week and invited me to her parents’ home for their Iftar dinner — the late-night dinner that breaks the daily fast. We sat at table and her father and mother, both educators, shared the significance of each part of the meal. The father asked me to read the hundredth chapter of the Qur’an which would be read at the mosque that night. My jaw dropped when I read...


Lisa Sharon Harper is the director of mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.

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