Over these past two weeks, we’ve seen these visions of the heavenly throne room. In the first week, we had this image of God, the Creator. A God we’ve been introduced to over and over in the prophets. God, at the center of the universe, surrounded by the heavenly council and the four living creatures, who represent humanity and all of creation - all of whom are singing these songs of praise to God. Songs that we sing in our liturgy and our hymns: holy, holy, holy.
Week Two brought us the image of the Lamb. The One worthy to open the scroll in God’s hand - the master plan by which God would redeem and restore us and all creation. Once again, we heard of the praise of heaven and earth for this Lamb - Worthy is Christ the Lamb who was slain.
Today, these scenes of praise and celebration give way to threatening visions. As the Lamb begins to open the seals of the scroll, we experience a series of seven threatening visions. One of which - perhaps the most threatening vision for us of all - is the basis for the first part of today’s reading. In Revelation, chapter 6.
Then I looked on as the Lamb opened one of the seven seals. I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” So I looked, and there was a white horse. Its rider held a bow and was given a crown. And he went forth from victory to victory.
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” Out came another horse, fiery red. Its rider was allowed to take peace from the earth so that people would kill each other. He was given a large sword.
When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” So I looked, and there was a black horse. Its rider held a balance for weighing in his hand. I heard what sounded like a voice from among the four living creatures. It said, “A quart of wheat for a denarion, and three quarts of barley for a denarion, but don’t damage the olive oil and the wine.”
When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” So I looked, and there was a pale green horse. Its rider’s name was Death, and the Grave was following right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill by sword, famine, disease, and the wild animals of the earth.
These are the threats that are real. They are as real for us today as they were for people in the first century. These are the things that strip away any sense of security we might have. Each of them represented by one of the four horsemen.
The first horseman in white represents the threat of conquest.
How secure are we as a nation? The people reading John’s Revelation lived in the most secure nation on earth. Much like we do today. They, like us, took this for granted. Yet, as we have learned in these past many months, our nation’s security can easily be undermined. It is more tenuous than we realize. Unexpected and unseen forces, whether from outside or from inside our nation’s borders continuously threaten our national security. How secure are is our nation? This is the potential threat represented by the first horsemen.
The second horseman in fiery red represents the threat of violence - the violence we do to each other. It asks the question, “How secure are you in your community or even in your own home?” This is a threat that keeps us up at night. That causes such anxiety. How do we keep ourselves or our families safe? This is the threat that leads us to trust in weapons and in security systems that often give us a false sense of security. How safe really are you and your loved ones from violence?
The third horseman in black represents the threat of food shortage or of economic hardship. Isn’t this another threat that keeps us up at night? Where will the money come from? For food, for shelter, for those basic needs to, once again, keep us safe. How secure is your family economically? We live in one of the richest countries in the world, but as we see greater and greater economic inequality and insecurity in our nation. How secure are each of us really? One or two paychecks away from financial ruin. One stock market crash away from economic failure. How secure are you and your loved ones financially?
The fourth horseman in pale green represents the threat of death. How secure is your health or your life? This is perhaps the most frightening for all of us. Whether it is a cancer diagnosis, a heart attack or a stroke or the continuing threat of the pandemic, this threat of the loss of our health or of our lives terrifies us.
Each of these four horsemen present threats that remind us of how vulnerable we really are. Over and over again, they ask the question, “How secure are you? No, really! How secure are you and those you love?” They lead us, like the writer of Revelation before the final seal is opened, to ask this question: who can stand in the face of these threats? How can we survive?
The answer is in the second part of our reading today. From Revelation, chapter 7.
After this I looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language. They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands. They cried out with a loud voice:
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
All the angels stood in a circle around the throne, and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell facedown before the throne and worshipped God, saying,
“Amen! Blessing and glory
and wisdom and thanksgiving
and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and always. Amen.”
Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him, “Sir, you know.”
Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” --Revelation 6:1-8; 7:9-17 (CEB)
Who can stand? Who can stand in the face of these threats? John sees who can stand: those who have been redeemed by the Lamb. You and I and believers across time. We can stand.
It does not mean that these threats are not real. Or that they will go away. We have over this past year and a half been witness to every one of these threats. We have experienced every one of them.
But, the promise here is that, even in the face of conquest or violence or economic hardship or illness or death - the promise we have is that of life. It is this promise that allows us to stand in the face of these threats, knowing and trusting that, ultimately, God’s purpose is one of life. No more hunger or thirst. No sun or scorching heat. No more tears. A promise for you and for me. For all people and for all time.
Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and always. Amen.