3rd Sunday of Easter

May 1, 2022


1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honour and glory and blessing!”

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!”

14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:1-14 ESV)

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! (Hallelujah!)

An experienced surfer going into the waves knows what to expect by watching the face, trough, and crest of the waves and the direction they break.

Athletes know their equipment and their environment but not all equipment and environments are the same which is why they go and acclimatise themselves to the environment and equipment they will be using in competitions.

When you’ve lived with someone for a while you learn how to read all sorts of things – the way the door opens, the look on the face, breathing, smell – and you can prepare accordingly – and this becomes instinctive, unconscious over time – and if the relationship is positive, your happiness increases while if the relationship is abusive, your survival has increased because you’ve read the landscape ‘early’.

We all know that to travel safely and well you should be prepared for the conditions you will face – for my first big road trip through parts of Australia I bought so many spare parts for the car and took extra oil and water that we couldn’t fit in the luggage! – but my guess is that we often don’t think this way in terms of living because (a) we’re too busy living, and (b) to take my landscape analogy into life is to ask the big questions, the search for meaning questions about the landscape between birth and death which is often hard to do in the busyness of life. This isn’t new as Plato’s recording of Socrates’ comment ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ testifies and as people wonder what life is all about.

And this is also true when your life has been turned upside down, suddenly changed in a way that what was past is gone and you have to come to grips with the new – and we can imagine refugees going through this, people grieving going through this, people betrayed or violated going through this, people who have succeeded at something going through this – and it certainly happened to those first believers of Jesus who discovered that Jesus’ resurrection and his presence with them meant that death no longer has the final say – and that certainly changes the landscape if the landscape doesn’t end with death!

Except there can be a real tension if you believe that Jesus has defeated death’s power but the world around you starts particularly targeting you as troublesome and killing you! And so to comfort, console, guide, and sustain his followers Jesus gave a revelation – a message – to John for the seven churches – and he also told John to write what he saw when he was called to go through the open door in heaven (Revelation 4:1) and we heard part of what he saw in our Second Reading. Just before our reading John had painted in our mind’s eye the throne, the rainbow, the twenty-four elders, lightning and thunder, the seven torches of fire, the four living creatures, the ‘holy, holy, holy’ of worship – so the scene is set – this is the landscape – and now the drama begins.

With my theatre background, I can tell you a lot about staging performances, about blocking the movement of the actors; about lighting and what it highlights, makes visible, and the mood it creates; about costuming and sound effects all to produce an effect that might be momentary in time but then shapes everything that comes afterwards. What John sees is the story of salvation in its totality and what it means in reality on Earth – a hidden reality because we live by faith and not by sight – but it presents the meaning of life – and for believers the meaning and purpose of their life. This scene sets the believer in reality, in the context between birth and … eternal life – and we would normally say ‘death’ but in Jesus death has already been factored into the eternal life landscape!

There is no one to open the scroll of life, to break the seven seals, and all is lost until we hear that the Lion of Judah has done so but what we see doesn’t match with what we hear – welcome to Revelation – and welcome to Christianity – and welcome to a life of faith and paradox. This Lion is Lamb who was slain – and yet is standing – is alive and functioning.

At the taking of the scroll by the Lamb the four living creature and the twenty four elders fall down before the Lamb with praise and prayer – harp and bowl of incense and sing a new song – there is a new reality on Planet Earth –

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth.”

These ransomed people of God – these Christians – these poor and persecuted, these suffering and struggling – are described – yes another paradox but the new reality of the new creation of Christ, the result of his rescue and salvation as ‘kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on Earth’.

This message is either lunacy, perverse cruelty, or a stunning truth – especially when told to those who feel hopeless, who feel abandoned by God, who think that the state – back then the Empire – is too evil and powerful, too corrupt – and yet the song sings and Jesus reveals that his followers are the reigning on Earth – even as they are struggling and dying. The Early Church would later say and sing that ‘the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church’ and such a witness unto death is noted – and makes a mockery of death’s false power and nullifies its fear over people.

Of course none of us want to witness to the point of death but that is the landscape in which we live because our Lord also died – to defeat death. Such a witness, a martyrdom if called upon is a final witness, and up until then the reigning with God is done by harp and bowl of incense – by praise and prayer. Christians, I think, have always struggled with power – the thought of it and the use of it – but we begin well when we realise that the power we have in Christ – and Christians are the most powerful people in the world no matter what our politics or economy or army says – is used for others

and not for ourselves. And this happens when we praise God – remember that is telling other people that God is good and everything we want to say because praise challenges Satan and evil and fear like nothing else – and when we pray to God, when we intercede for others especially others who will not pray for themselves, who reject God, who are trapped in a prison that the reality that counts in the life between birth and death and who are afraid – even if they bluster and deny it.

Our harp and bowl of incense are not our delusions – speaking about a nothing and crying out to no one – but are the primary ways Christians reign on Earth – and bring about help and salvation for others. James would tell his diaspora Christians that they had not because they didn’t pray or they kept pray for the wrong things – maybe earthly power or to satisfy your own passions (James 4:3).

And then John hears that the One on the throne and the Lamb are the ones to give blessing and honour and glory and might because they have brought life to this world again – life to God’s people – and this is acknowledged by all in heaven, on Earth, under the Earth, and in the sea – and here you have reality – the heavenly realm, the earthly realm, the place of the dead, and the place of chaos that mysteriously is beyond everything – those waters above which the Spirit hovered perhaps at the beginning (Genesis 1:2). Or perhaps John heard creation itself – the universe with its stars and wonders, the land with its animals and people, even the sea creatures beneath the waves all in a wonderful harmony to the Creator and Saviour? However we hear John’s words the power and glory are with the One on the throne and the Lab who was slain who has made Christians his people to live in service to others and to glory of God.

That’s the landscape of the new creation in Christ and the more we live in it through words, water, bread and wine the more used to it we become, the more comfortable we are with our harp and bowl of incense, and the more we will rejoice each day even if it is the day Death turns up because it has no sting and for us life continues and faith gives way to sight.

The more we know the landscape the better we are at living in it.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! (Hallelujah!)

Bible References

  • Revelation 5:1 - 14