The Book of Johannes
There was a man created by existence. His name was Johannes. He came as a witness to the light so that everyone might see through his eyes each in their own way. He was not the light, but he came to bear witness to the light. That was the true light, that shines through all creatures who come into this world.
Part One - Triumph
“More and more, this family is beginning to resemble a Greek tragedy.”
spoken by Tiberius Caesar in I, Claudius
"Is it time, father?"
"No, my son, not yet."
"Is it time, father?"
"No, my son, not yet."
"Is it time, father?"
"Yes, my son, Armageddon . . . is now."
Satan's eyes opened wide as he heard the rusted chains start to move again after one thousand years. The cold metal ceiling of his prison room slowly withdrew. A narrow shaft of light pierced the darkness around him and then grew wider and wider. He was blinded until his pupils narrowed and he could see again.
His lieutenants gathered round him.
"It's time for battle, my lord."
"Yes, Beelzebub, it is."
Another said, "It's a trap, my lord. Do not go. Stay here."
"Of course it's a trap. And I know we'll lose. That's my father's plan. What he doesn't know is that by sealing my fate, he seals his own as well."
He paused for a moment and looked at his angels who had followed him for seemingly eons of time. Not one flinched. Each looked him in the eye. He smiled.
"Have no fear, my brothers. Though the end is cast, I promise it will be glorious. Now gird yourselves for battle. There is work to do."
A mighty shout rang out as the dark lord and his angels poured up from their prison and turned towards New Jerusalem, the City of God.
"Come, my army," cried Satan. "This is the final rebellion!"
The horde reached the shining city, its vast walls shimmering with amethysts, sapphires and emeralds. All manner of precious stones were used in the foundation's supporting walls of jasper and, surmounting them, the towers of the city were purest gold. Each gate was a single pearl and through the gates were seen streets of gold.
On the plains before the city were gathered the multitudes of the nations of the four corners of the earth, numerous as the sands of the sea, all ready to fight in Satan's name. A path cleared through them as Satan came to the front of the army, at the very base of the city's foundations. He looked at the walls towering above him, then turned back to his people.
"Today is our chance for revenge!" he shouted. His words were met with thunderous shouts in return. "This is the end of time as we know it. Do yourselves justice!"
Swords, shields and all manner of weapons were raised in hand, claw, talon and tentacle.
"Forward!" he shouted. "Forward to glory!"
They pressed forward to the unguarded gates when a streak of lightning split the sky and a single voice, louder than Satan's army, reached them from on high.
"Stop, my brother!" said the voice. "You go too far!"
Satan looked up. "Come, Jesus, Father's favorite, let the game begin!"
Lord Jesus was in his chariot hitched to flying steeds, holding them in with his reins, At a word they descended through space; liquid fire shooting from the revolving wheels fell on Satan's army. The fire burned and charred; flesh, skin, scales, and feathers melted at touch of the flame and a terrifying shriek rent the sky. The very ground turned into flames and the army, Satan and all, sank into the lake of fire.
Then the dead stood before the white throne of God the Father and the Book of Life was opened and the dead were judged by their acts. Whomever was not in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. Even death and hell were cast into the lake. Then God the Father raised his hand and winds whipped the flames of the lake into whirlwinds that raced around the planet, consuming every object, every tree, every house, every bird, every deer, everything, totally. The flames reached even to Heaven itself, which was also consumed and Heaven and earth were purified by fire.
When the last embers died, the renewed Heaven opened and the untouched New Jerusalem descended to the reborn earth, verdant as on the dawn of creation: green forests, fertile plains, skies filled with birds, seas with fish, meadows with animals. And in the middle was the City of God, and in that city was God the Son, illuminating the city from his own light without need of sun. And there was no more darkness. Christ Jesus lived among his people as lord. The River of Life flowed from his throne. Its waters nourished the Tree of Life, which healed the nations, and nothing defiled that place where the Lamb ruled forever and ever.
Somewhere east of Eden, after the Fall
"And He rejected them?"
"Yes, everything. My finest apples. My best wheat. I put everything on the altar. I held nothing back. So why did he reject them?"
I don't know, my brother. I don't know."
Abel held the gently crying body of his brother. Behind them were the two altars: Abel's with the blood and lifeless body of his first-born lamb of the season, Cain's with the crops of his fields and orchards.
Cain's body trembled and Abel held him even tighter, looking across the fields but seeing nothing.
Why, he asked himself, why would Yahweh accept only blood? Why was animal death alone acceptable? He had sacrificed the lamb because that was all he had to offer. Why was the act alone not enough? Why wasn't an honest sacrifice of anything not enough? Why did it have to be one particular thing, one that his brother didn't even have to offer?
The two brothers were very close, as twins typically are. Yet physically they were not at all similar; one could hardly believe they came from the same womb. Abel was blond and fair skinned; Cain was dark hued in hair and skin.
It was Cain who followed his father, Adam, into the fields, where briars and thorns cut their feet and lanced their legs. It was Cain who learned how to plow and plant and cultivate. He learned the secrets of the orchard and how to protect young crops from heat of sun and dryness of drought. It was he who watched the crops shrivel and die in August and freeze in unexpected cold. It was he who saw the granary depleted first of food then of seed and who wondered how to feed the family not only this year but next. He felt strongly the injustice of his father's being driven out of Eden, the bitterness of ever suffering for one single lapse.
He knew the stories of Eden by heart and had even defied his father by returning there, traveling the plains and deserts for weeks by himself, then climbing a hill and seeing the Garden for the first, and last, time, spread out before him, a vast expanse of fertile green, separated by stone walls from the brown of the desert around it. He saw the eastern gate with its cherubim and the flaming sword turning in every direction to protect the Tree of Life.
And Cain saw the Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden, beside a lake of azure blue water. And he longed to taste the fruit hanging from its branches and to rest beside the still waters. Yet he knew he could not reach it, he could not touch it, and he cursed Yahweh for being stern and unyielding and he cried for his own weakness. Then Cain returned home and never told what he saw or what he felt.
Gradually the crying stopped and Cain lay motionless, asleep in his brother's arms. Abel gently laid him on the grass and knew what he had to do. He went to his sheep fold and entered the gate.
Abel had learned to care for the sheep and goats from his mother. She had a way with animals, gently patient. They didn't fear her. They came to her to be scratched and they ate from her hand.
Abel learned how to care for them, to watch them for signs of illness, to pick herbs and make potions to heal them. He followed the animals as they grazed from field to field. He watched from the hillside for the fanged animals that would kill his flocks.
Sometimes he sat with his staff beside him on the ground, singing songs his mother sang, sad songs as a rule, of better days and happier times. But sometimes she sang a happy song in spite of everything and she looked so young and happy that Abel realized just how much he loved her.
She also sang with the spindle in her hand as she spun the sheep's fleece into thread, then put the thread on the loom and wove it into cloth.
Abel loved to spin and weave better than anything else. He loved to watch the threads grow into inch after inch of cloth. And he loved the feeling that he had created something important, something useful, because then he felt useful, too. As his brother helped keep the family fed, so he helped keep the family clothed.
Abel entered the paddock where the young lambs were still being nursed by their mothers. He took the biggest lamb in his arms. It cried for its mother and its mother cried too.
"I'm sorry," was all he could say.
Holding the lamb in his arms, he walked back to Cain, who was still sleeping on the ground. Abel knelt beside him and touched the nose of the lamb to Cain's face. Cain started in surprise and looked at the lamb and his brother questioningly.
"Here," said Abel. "I want you to have it."
"Why?" asked Cain.
"If Yahweh must have blood, then he will accept this lamb from you."
"No!" cried Cain, standing up and looking down on his brother. "Don't you understand? It has to come from my labor. It cannot be a gift. He'd just reject it again, just reject me again."
"Try it anyway," urged Abel. He got up as well and walked toward Cain, holding the lamb before him.
Cain backed away from his advancing brother, yet not taking his eyes from the lamb. He backed into something and put his hands behind him to steady his balance. Feeling something wet, he looked at his hands. They were red with blood from Abel's sacrifice. Abel continued walking towards him with the new lamb. Cain was trapped. "No!" he cried, as his brother reached him. "No!" and pushed Abel with both hands. Abel stumbled back over a rock, dropping the lamb which bleated for its mother and ran away. Abel lost his balance and fell backward, his hands clutching the air as his head hit a rock. Cain watched in horror as his brother's body convulsed once, twice; his mouth opened to say something. He looked at Cain and raised a hand towards him, then it fell back. Abel's mouth remained open, as did his eyes.
Cain fell to his knees and held his brother in his arms. "Abel, Abel, speak to me!"
As he watched, a film slipped over Abel's eyes as though a cloud had passed overhead. A sigh rushed from his body, and Abel was dead.
"No!" cried Cain. "No! No!"
He shook Abel's lifeless body. "Don't die! Don't die!"
Blood poured from the back of Abel's head onto the grass like a stained carpet. Cain looked at the spreading blood in disbelief, then he heard his father's voice.
"Murderer! Jealous murderer!"
He turned around. Adam stood a few feet away. But towering behind him was the very being of Yahweh. And as Yahweh's lips moved, so Adam spoke.
"You've killed your brother. You and yours will be forever cursed."
"Father, I didn't . . .. "
"Shut up and listen to me. Leave this place. Never, ever, come here again."
"But I live here."
"No more. You are no more son of mine."
"But they'll kill me out there."
"None shall judge you except me. This mark [and Cain felt a burning on his forehead as though he'd been touched with a hot iron poker] will let them know what you did."
"But I didn't . . ."
"Silence! Now leave here!"
"But . . ."
“Go! Go!" And Adam picked up stones and started throwing them at Cain, who was hit once, twice, then ran and didn't stop running for a long time.
The Moravian community of Herrnhaag, Germany, outside Frankfurt, late 1740s
Benigna Zinzendorf opened the door to her brother's room slowly, soundlessly. As she looked inside, one eyebrow raised in scorn. Christian Renatus Graf von Zinzendorf was a count. He was also the literal side wound of Christ. By looking into Christian’s eyes, one saw Christ’s eyes at the moment of his death. The Single Brothers knew this. His very name stated it. His parents affirmed it. It was the truth.
Now he stood before his brothers as their leader, their savior, their bridegroom. He was a mixture of the divine in earthly clay. The spirit burned within him and his eyes glowed with flames.
His linen surplice shimmered with light that came from within him as well as from the candles that lit the room. His brides, his brothers, surrounded him, not yet daring to touch the long folds of finest thread. They were nearing ecstasy simply by being with the source of their devotion. Passion became song, a hymn to him:
Take me in your arms.
Kiss my wounded brow.
Take away my pain.
I love you so.
Then the word became flesh. Christian bent down to each of his brothers and kissed each one fully on the mouth.
Even gods must have a favorite. His own dearest friend was saved for last. They kissed. They touched. Passion turned to fervor as they held each other so closely their very bodies should break.
Benigna motioned for her father to see. The older count, Nicholas Ludwig, looked into the room. His face betrayed no emotion. Odd for a man who espoused a religion of the heart. But this was too much. Now, he was angry.
He grabbed the edge of the door and slammed it open. The young men looked at him in shock, especially his son.
"Father . . ."
"Shut . . . up." The words were carefully spaced, precise. Nicholas Ludwig walked into the room. Benigna stayed in the doorway. Christian saw him, and her, and the betrayal became clear.
"Blasphemy! Perversion!" Nicholas shouted. "Out! Out all of you, out! Out of this room. Out of this building. Out of this community. All of you. Out. Now!"
He grabbed one brother by the folds of his coat and threw him out the door. The others stumbled to get out of the way. Benigna stood to one side as they passed her. She smiled at Christian. He stared back at her.
Only his favorite was left, holding onto his hand.
Nicholas looked at them both and would have burned them to ashes by sight alone if he could. He advanced upon the pair. The lover of the god looked at Christian with fear.
"Go," said Christian violently. "Go!" And he fled.
Benigna continued to stare.
Nicholas' face was red with apoplexy. His eyes bulged. Neck veins throbbed. He was speechless for a moment. Benigna came in and took her father's hand, stroked it, and he began to calm down to the point of intelligibility.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Christ lives again in me as the Divine Bridegroom. These are my Brides."
"Don't take it literally!"
"Christ is real in me and I am real to my brothers, my brides. Heaven is here at Herrnhaag. That’s why you named it God’s Grove."
Nicholas slapped Christian hard on the cheek with the flat of one hand, knocking him to the floor. Nicholas stepped forward and towered over his son.
“This is not what it means! You embarrass me and you disgrace our religion. You misunderstand everything. You've nearly destroyed everything, yes, everything I have worked for. Now all this, [and he swept his hand around the room], all this," he repeated for emphasis, "comes to an end. As of this moment, you are no longer head of the Single Brothers."
"I am closing both Marienborn and Herrnhaag. Those who wish to follow my word, not yours, my word, will be given transport to America, to Pennsylvania, where they can show repentance by teaching the heath- en."
"And as for you, my son (he said this slowly, drawn out with sarcasm), you are coming with me to London. You will stay by my side. You will do as I say until you repent these vile and evil acts. Do you understand me?"
Silence. Then slowly, very slowly, not looking at Benigna or his father, Christian said, "Yes . . . sir."
"Good. You have spent too much time with your mother. She has not been a good influence. Spangenberg was right. You are less a son than Benigna is. That, too, will change. Do you understand me?"
"Now, get ready to leave at dawn. This place will be abandoned."
Christian went to a chest to pack. He looked into a mirror on the wall and saw Benigna looking at him and smiling. He looked away.
A window was thrown open with a crash as its panes of glass shattered against the stone casement. Someone on the ground and looking up to the Single Brothers' third floor dormitory would have seen drawer after drawer of clothing thrown through the window, tumbling down as the clothing was blown and tossed by the wind, falling like ghostly wrappings.
"Out! Out!" came the shouts that started on the third floor and worked their way down floor by floor. Windows on each floor opened, followed by another rain of clothing - shirts, breeches, waistcoats, stockings - all piling on the ground like a ragpicker's dream.
The double doors of the brothers' house were flung open and men, old, young, strong, weak, rushed outside as though being herded by a shepherd to market. Dressing as they ran, trying to fit feet into breeches and arms into coats, grabbing whatever clothing came to hand, then hurrying off into the darkness, the Single Brothers discovered the wrath of God the Father.
Benigna and Christian looked at each other in the reflection of the mirror as they listened to their father tear his way through three floors and dozens of rooms. Christian put down the clothes in his hand and turned to face his sister.
"Why did you do it?"
"Because you were destroying everything Father's worked for."
"Destroying? Destroying? The spirit is alive here. It lives through me and I pass it on to my brothers. How is that destroying?"
"Christian," she held out her hand. He pulled away and her hand remained suspended in the air for a moment before she put it down.
"Christian, you take everything so literally."
"How else am I to take it?"
"Metaphor. Symbol. Transcendence."
"Here and now," he replied. "The eternal in a moment. God is love."
"Not that kind. Not that way."
"How can you judge love? It is what it is."
"Not . . . that . . . way," she emphasized. "Love in the spirit, not in the body."
"But the spirit inhabits the body. It is the body."
"No, it isn't. You are wrong."
"No," he replied. "There's nothing wrong with that."
"You don't understand."
"No, you don't understand."
They stood looking at each other.
"Christian," she said, "There are people out there waiting to destroy us, waiting to use any rumor, any innuendo, to discredit us. Don't you realize that?"
"These festivals you hold, the candles, the food, the extravagance. Who pays for that? You don't. It's paid for by our brothers and sisters. They work, all over the world, spreading the word, sending money back to continue the word, to spread it even more and you spend it on extravagant festivals lit by hundreds of candles that blaze across the valley. It's not right."
"There are those even within the church who would ruin you, Christian. They are jealous of your influence. They envy your position. They would destroy you to prove their own fidelity."
"So you destroyed me first?"
She looked at him and, for the first time, there was pain in her eyes.
"You need to grow up. You need to see the world as it is, not as you want it to be. It's a dangerous place."
"So I'm learning," he said bitterly.
Benigna looked away for a moment, then continued. "It's not the end of the world. Father will take you to England. You will work with him at Lindsey House. Let people see that you are chastened, repentant. Let them see you working for the good of the church. Then Father will give you back everything he's taken away."
"No, my dear sister," he said looking at her. "Not quite everything."
They stared at each other for a moment, then Benigna bowed her head and left the room.
Christian looked at himself in the mirror until the candles burned out.