Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Mighty…Lamb?

As much as I love words, our ability to employ them to express the inexpressible is limited. 
Any description of a dream or vision, then, is necessarily inadequate. I've tried, in this sermon, to paint a picture, or compose a symphony in words, that gives the hearer or reader a sense of the indescribable.

The Mighty…Lamb?
Revelation 4 and 5
February 24, 2013
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Revelation 4:1-11
1 After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." 2 At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 3 And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. 4 Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 6 and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal. Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come." 9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, 11 "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created." 

Imagine that you are asleep in a mountain cabin in the woods, and a sound wakes you.
You look out into the forest and the sound of distant music draws you out of the cabin toward a moonlit meadow. The starlight dances off the drops of dew on the tall grass and you can hear a silver brook tumbling down the rocks. It’s a splendid night, magical, and it feels like a dream as you walk.

Suddenly, in front of you, a doorway appears, the door opens, and light streams out of the opening. A voice says, “Come up here!” You step forward and peek through the door, where you see the great hall of a palace.

You know it is a palace, because you’ve been in a palace before, on a tour somewhere. You remember the tour guide took you into the throne room and up the red carpet to see the golden chair and the royal diadem. But when you looked more closely, the carpet was nylon, indoor-outdoor, and the throne was made of plastic with a veneer of gold paint, and the bejeweled crown was cheap metal and glass. The royal robe that looked like velvet and ermine was polyester and fake fur. It was all façade, cheap imitation, artificial grandeur. But that was in the real world, all that sham and phony glitter.

This is a vision, not a guided tour, and now you are taken up into a throne room. You can’t say how you got there. You gaze around you in complete awe. The word AWFUL comes to mind, not the way we use it now, but the original meaning of it – inspiring awe or reverence – which is what awesome used to mean! So it is AWE-full—what you see in this vision:

There is a being seated on a throne, who looks like polished precious gemstones, surrounded by a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around that breathtaking being, you see twenty-four elders on twenty-four thrones, the twelve tribes, the twelve apostles, all dressed in sparkling white robes and wearing golden crowns. There is the sound of thunder, and voices, and flashes of lightning. You look toward the front of the throne and see seven flaming torches, surrounding a glassy sea, like crystal.

You are transfixed watching the flickering of the torches reflected in the crystal. Then you see four living creatures – winged and many-eyed, all seeing, and powerful – they look like a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle. They sing unceasingly, songs like tiny hammers hurled at beveled mirrors in empty halls[1], songs like a symphony of all of nature, songs like the music of the spheres, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is coming."

And when they sing, the twenty four elders fall down on their faces and worship the one on the throne. They throw down their crowns before the throne and sing of glory and honor and power.

Then you see the one on the throne is holding a scroll. The scroll has seven seals upon it, and writing on the front and back. An angel calls out a question: “Who is worthy to open the scroll?”

But there is no one, no one who is worthy to break the seven seals, no one who is worthy, in heaven or on earth. And you can see that this scroll contains the redemption of the world, the secret plan of God to overthrow destruction and evil and violence, to overwhelm them with nurturing and world-rescuing.

You can see that inside this scroll there is a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth: liberation, emancipation, release to the captive. But there is no one who is worthy, not one who can open the seven seals. And you are overcome with sorrow, overcome with weeping, distraught– no one will open the scroll!

Then, one of the elders speaks, promising a lion, a lion who has emerged victorious, the king of beasts, the mighty hunter, who roars and makes the world tremble. He will open the seven seals. You look to see this glorious beast. But what you see is not a lion!

You see only a lamb, a slain lamb, like a sacrifice. When he comes forward to take the scroll, all the elders fall down and worship him. They each hold a harp. They each hold golden bowls full of incense, the prayers of the saints.  And they begin to sing:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain, and by your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will rule on earth."

As you lift your eyes from this lamb, you hear the sound of angels – millions of angels, thousands upon thousands.  And the angels begin to sing:
“Worthy is the slaughtered Lamb to receive power, wealth, wisdom,
and might, and honor, glory, and blessing."

And joining in the angels song, you hear every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea -- everything, everywhere saying,
“Blessing, honor, glory, and power belong to the one seated on the throne
and to the Lamb forever and always.”

And from the eagle, the ox, the lion and man, those winged creatures, arises a great  “Amen”
and all the elders fall down and worship. And you fall down and worship too, but you are looking for the mighty lion of Judah, for the one who was and is and is to come, looking for the king and ruler, whose power and might will bring his kingdom to bear, whose sudden and violent return will bring his enemies to their knees.

Where is the true king, the one in whose presence the people tremble? You are looking for the strength of muscle and weapon, dominance and superiority. You are familiar with the system of domination that sets one above another, that subjects a people by force, and demands that you bow to Caesar.

As you remember that plastic and synthetic palace you once saw, with its false wealth and faked splendor, loyalty won at the point of a spear, the blade of a sword, the barrel of a gun, you realize that true reality is not the death and despair of your waking life, not the greed and exploitation of the kingdoms of this world, not the monstrous  distortions of systems of domination,  not the evil of despair and hopelessness.

In this lamb who was slain, now you can see: his vision is reality;
his is the kingdom that truly has come; his will shall be done; his victory is won!
Now you can see that this heavenly realm in which you stand is the true kingdom!
This is the true kingdom, not the sham and fakery of the world!
This Lamb upon the throne has triumphed, he has reclaimed the world that God created.
He has come to put things right, not  because creation is bad and he is angry with it, but because it is good  and he is angry at the forces that have corrupted and defaced it, and which threaten to destroy it.[2]

He comes not with the brute force of a punishing conqueror, but with the giving love of a lamb, to turn us from hopeless rebels, from slaves to sin and death, into princes and princesses, into priests. He is the one who is worthy to open the seven seals; he is the one who is worthy of praise and worship. He comes not as a raging lion but as the lamb who was sacrificed, a self-giving monarch who rules the world with power –
the law of love,
            the dominance of grace,
                        the force of forgiveness,
                                    and he is the true king, worthy to be praised,
                                                who was and is and is to come,

To him be all glory and honor and power, forever and ever!
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Come, Mighty Lamb!


[1] Joni Mitchell, “Ladies of the Canyon”

[2] N.T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone, p. 49

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