Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Presence and Promise: The One Who Is Worthy

We are, once again, in the book of Revelation. Our reading today is a a continuation of the scene we heard about and imagined last week. The setting is the heavenly throne room. It is a scene of universal worship for God, who sits at the center, surrounded by the heavenly court and by images that are representative of all creation, including humankind. All have fallen to their knees in front of the One seated on the throne. The One who was and who is and who is to come.

We read today in Revelation, chapter 5. 

Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed[a] with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
    saints from[b] every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving[c] our God,
    and they will reign on earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!” -Revelation 5:1-13 (NRSV)

Do you remember the movie Cinderella? There’s this scene, after the ball and after Cinderella has made it safely home just at midnight when her carriage <poof> turns back into a pumpkin. The mice, formerly her footmen, scatter into the night. 

The prince decrees a nationwide search. To find the young woman who foot fits the glass slipper, left on the palace stairs. He searches far and wide. High and low. To find the one whose foot fits the glass slipper. Because, when that happens, he will know that it is her. The woman he wants to make his wife.

It’s a similar search that our text today opens with. But this is a search to find the one worthy to open the scroll held in the right hand of the one seated on the heavenly throne - the right hand which always is a sign of power and authority. This scroll in the hand of the Creator One contains the plan. A plan written on the front and the back of the scroll, which has been fasted by seven seals. We talked about the significance of the number seven in John’s writing. Seven, meaning completeness, wholeness. This scroll contains the plan by which God will redeem the world. 

But there’s a problem. A crisis, really! There is no one to be found worthy enough to open the scroll and break its seals. No one, neither the angel or anyone else in heaven or on earth or under the earth can be found who is powerful enough to open the scroll. The narrator of this vision - John - is distraught. Yet, he is comforted by one of the elders who reminds him that the “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” the Messiah has emerged victorious. And is thus worthy to break open the scroll and the seven seals.

Suddenly, in his vision, John sees a Lamb. He was expecting a roaring lion. Instead, he sees that this Lion is, in fact, a Lamb that has apparently been slain. This person, this Lamb, alone has the power to open the scroll of the future.

Now this is not some fuzzy, sweet little lamb. This Lamb has seven horns and seven watchful eyes, both signs of royal power and vigilance. The Lamb stands as if it has been slaughtered, a violent image that not only brings to mind the crucifixion of Jesus, but also the violence that is about to befall the Christian churches in Asia Minor, to whom this revelation has been addressed and who are no longer considered followers of an “official” religion of the Roman Empire.

This Lamb is the worthy One. And when the slain lamb takes the scroll from the hand of God, the universe erupts in song. First, those who surround the throne, then the angels, and finally, every creature in the universe. “You are worthy!” they sing. “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain. Because by your blood you have purchased for God persons of every tribe, language, people and nation, making them a kingdom and priests to God. They will rule on earth.

This scroll will mark God's plan. God’s final and fully predetermined plan to redeem the world. A plan that begins with the death of God’s own Son. A sacrificial lamb, willingly offered for the cleansing and rescue of the world. A self-giving, life-giving Lamb, who offers itself that the whole world might be redeemed. 

Both of the throne room scenes - last week and today - set the stage. The death of Christ is the way that God’s power is unleashed. Not the kind of power that we are witness to in our world - authoritarian power that harms or corrupts or is self-serving. No, this is the power of self-sacrifice. A power that builds God’s kingdom by redeeming people of every tribe. And every nation. That redeems you and I. And that calls us to live in the same self-sacrificial way. The way of love. The way of service. 

In this time, when so much is unsettled. When it seems as though the entire world, even all creation, is falling apart before our very eyes. Know that this Lamb, this self-sacrificial, bloody Lamb is worthy. Worthy to carry out God’s final plan of redemption. For you and I and all creation.

May we join the heavenly chorus in song. “Worthy is Christ the lamb who was slain!” Amen.

Preached August 15, 2021, at Grace & Glory, Goshen, and Third, Louisville.
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Revelation 5:1-113, John 1:29-31


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