Alpha and Omega
“I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (RSV, Revelation 22:13)
St John was a very old man that Sunday morning when Christ appeared to him and imparted the visions which form the Book of the Revelation – the last book of the Bible.
The persecution of the Church by the Emperor Domitian was well under way and St John had been sent to labour in the mines on the little volcanic island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea.
At the sight of the Risen Christ, the apostle, in his own words, “…fell at his feet as though dead” (RSV, Revelation 1:17), for Jesus stood before him in all his Divine glory, “…clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters…and his face was like the sun shining with full strength” (RSV, Revelation 1:13-16).
And there on that barren island, Our Blessed Lord proclaimed himself as the eternal God: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (RSV, Revelation 22:13).
As Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, so Jesus Christ, God made man, is he from whom all things take their origin, and in whom all things find their true journey’s end.
It is very easy for people, as one day succeeds another, to be so absorbed in the varying circumstances of their own lives and of the world around them, as to lose their awareness of that eternal life of God which forms the permanent and unchanging background of our life here, and which alone gives to it its meaning.
It is, therefore, no accident that Holy Scripture, the Word of God, puts God at the beginning, and in the centre, and at the end of all things. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and “…God created man in his own image…”, says the Old Testament (RSV, Genesis 1:1,27). “In the beginning was the Word” (that is, God the Son), says the New Testament “…and the Word was God”. “…all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made (RSV, John 1:1,3).
That truth is so familiar that we often fail to see its significance. We grow up in the world and accept it without thinking. We take it for granted that there should be day and night; and sun and moon and stars; and earth and sea and sky; animals, birds and fishes; butterflies, trees and flowers; life and growth and death; and, most astonishing of all, we take our own existence for granted.
Yet all of these things, and the whole of this wonderful world and the wonderful Universe itself are deliberately designed by one Being’s mind, sustained by one Being’s power; and that one Being is the Eternal God “…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (RSV, Revelation 1:8).
Let us bring this a little nearer to home by seeing how particularly true it is of ourselves. Everything that you and I are has its origin in God alone. There is only one thing that is not his workmanship and that is sin. Apart from that, all our powers of body, of mind, and of soul have been formed and bestowed on us by God.
That is especially true of the spiritual life. God is the one and the only source of all goodness and all holiness. In ourselves there is neither the power to frame a single good intention nor the ability to fulfil one. The most we can do is to accept and use the grace which he gives us – a truth which we recognise in the familiar Collect:
“O Lord, from whom all good things come:
grant to us your humble servants,
that by your holy inspiration
we may think those things that are good,
and by your merciful guiding may perform the same…” (1) (our emphasis).
But much of what God gives us in this way we use casually and, so far from recognising from whom it comes, we like to imagine that we have our own private supply of goodness and decency, whereas the plain truth is that apart from God, we are really nothing at all. That is the basic fact of our very being and existence.
But our self-esteem strongly objects to that humbling truth that we depend utterly and completely upon God for anything and everything that is worthy; and that is why in our daily lives we so often leave him out of account and rely instead on our own empty resources, forsaking, as Jeremiah says, the spring of living waters for broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13).
How many professing Christians there are who, in foolish pride, imagine that they can get on well enough in their own way without God’s constant help? Is it any wonder that they find their spiritual life on examination to be so disappointing and nondescript?
For the main foundation stone of the soul’s life with God is to recognise and to accept gladly and humbly our own nothingness apart from God; and that is why we should begin each day by asking him to fill us with his grace, so that we may be enabled to please him in all our thoughts, intentions, words and acts.
Without a conscious dependence on God there can be no significant advance in the spiritual life, that is, in the deepening of our personal relationship with him.
“I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (RSV, Revelation 22:12, our emphasis). God is not only the source and origin of all things, he is also the end for which all things were made. God did not make anyone to pursue an existence independent of himself. As St John heard that Sunday on the island of Patmos, this truth is expressed in one of the songs of Heaven, “…thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11, our emphasis).
For God has made everything with one purpose and one only – that it may realise its full potentiality and its final destiny in him and him alone. So Holy Scripture tells us that in the end even Nature itself will be freed from pain and evil and will share in the enjoyment of the glory of God (Romans 8:19-23), and all things will return to him from whom they took their origin, and God will be all in all.
In that sublime purpose lies all the meaning of our human life. Indeed it applies to us to a far greater degree than it does to the rest of God’s creation, because God has made us in his own image, so that we can, of our own free and conscious choice share his life here and now, and, in St Paul’s words, “…come…to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ (NRSV, Ephesians 4:13). That is the ultimate reason why he has given us a mind with which to know him, a heart with which to love him, and a will with which to choose to become like him and to be wholly his.
If therefore we make anything else the focus of our desires, we misuse most monstrously these God-given faculties, and rob our Maker and Preserver of what is rightly his.
It is strange that human beings should set up anything else as the centre of their lives, when their Eternal Maker – who ought to be in that centre – is fair beyond all telling. But that is how it has always been, so that God even had to make a commandment against it, “You shall have no other gods before me” (RSV, Exodus 20:3) – and gods means anything that replaces him as the most important thing in life.
What, for example, exerts the greatest pull on you – money, possessions, pleasure, clothes, self – or God? Which of these comes first in your scale of values or has the greatest influence on your attitude to life? If one cannot humbly and truthfully say, “God”, then one is heading in the wrong direction altogether, and that direction is not towards God.
For whether one has this world’s goods does not greatly matter; what does matter is that one should be inwardly detached from them so that they do not rival God as the ultimate object of one’s interest and affections.
Something has to occupy the throne of one’s heart; it cannot remain empty. If that something is God there is no room for anything else: if it is anything else, then there is no room for God.
For in order to attain to the possession and enjoyment of God, we must learn to treat all worldly possessions and enjoyments with indifference, otherwise they will surely take us away from him as they have taken, and are still taking, many a man and woman from him.
It is not for such things as these that we were made, but for the Eternal God himself, Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the Almighty (Revelation 1:8; 22:13).
1. © Archbishops' Council (2000) Common Worship Collect for the weekdays after the Day of Pentecost. Available from:
http://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/texts/daily2/daily-prayer-collects/ordinary-time.aspx (Accessed 05 February 2014) (Internet).