Monday, April 22, 2013

Reflections from the Book of Revelation

An excerpt from yesterday's sermon...Easter 4-Good Shepherd Sunday (Revelation 7:9-17)

First, I want to dismantle some assumptions about God as we know through Holy Scripture.  In my estimation, God never promised that life would be smooth and easy.  God never promised we would not experience pain or suffering.  Instead, God promises to give meaning to life through our crucified Lord who has been raised from the dead, through the suffering servant and the triumphant King. 

Through our Risen Lord, God promises to give meaning to life when nothing else seems to make sense.  To help us explore what this means, what it means to say that God gives meaning to life through our crucified and risen Lord, we would do well to look at the lesson from Revelation this morning.

The part of Revelation that we read today (second half of chapter 7) takes place in what is known as the heavenly throne room.  The heavenly throne room is basically a place of unceasing praise to God.  And as we learn from today’s lesson, a great multitude that no one could count…stand before the throne and before the Lamb—what a powerful and lasting image.  This same imagery is partly responsible for what we say during the Eucharist prayer when we sing with all the company of heaven.  So in some real way at the Great Thanksgiving we literally enter into unceasing praise with those who worship in that heavenly throne room.    

Not only is this throne room a place of unceasing praise, it is also the venue in which God reveals his plan for salvation.  The Book of Revelation states that God’s plan for salvation is contained within a scroll that is sealed seven times.  And the only one who is worthy to open the scroll is the Lamb that was slain, our Savior Jesus Christ. 

At this point in the book of Revelation six of the seven seals have been opened.  While disputed, the first seal represents Christ himself riding out on a white horse conquering the kings of the earth.  The next five seals reveal the kind of evil that takes place in our world including war, famine, disease, persecution, and natural disaster.  As described in the few sentences that extend beyond today’s lesson, the last seal represents the faithful in prayer.

Okay, now that you have heard all the details of what is going on here we get to the really interesting part.  Remembering that the first seal is Christ and the last seal is prayer and that all the seals in between represent evil, Eugene Peterson notes, “evil is not minimized, but evil is put in its place, bracketed between Christ and prayer…evil is not explained but surrounded…evil is seen as a finite episode and not a total triumph.” 

This reflection by Peterson does a wonderful job of capturing what is going on through our crucified Lord who has been raised from the dead.  While the wounds on Christ’s hands and feet remain, while the marks of death remain, Christ is alive.  This is the promise of God’s plan for salvation.  God’s promise shows us that even when evil does its worst; Christ and prayer overwhelm it with life.  Christ and prayer contain everything that is going on around us and give meaning in the midst of chaos. 

And because of this great accomplishment through the Lamb of God a great multitude stands and cries aloud, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb…Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”  Peterson again wisely notes, “The most frightening representations of evil are set alongside extravagant praise.  Christians sing…Any evil, no matter how fearsome, is exposed as weak and pedantic before such songs.”

This past week Christians from all over overwhelmed the world in prayer for those who died and for those who were impacted by tragic events Boston and in Texas.  Episcopal Churches across the country and even here in Alabama offered special Eucharist’s dedicated to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.  Social media sites have been littered with prayers that speak of the hope found in our Risen Lord.  Again and again, we have seen images of those who ran toward the explosions to risk their own lives to help those who were injured by the blasts.  This is all the work of the Lamb who was slain, our Savoir Jesus Christ.  This is all a part of God’s plan to put evil in its place, to call evil what it is and name it as weak and pedantic.  This act of evil in Boston and all acts of evil are cornered by a great multitude in prayer and by Jesus, the Lamb of God.

In just a few minutes, this congregation gather around this altar that is mysteriously a part of that heavenly throne room and remember the victims in Boston and Texas along with members of our parish who are sick and who have died.  We will also give thanks for the many blessings of this life especially for the baptisms of Olive and Ellis , a sacrament that marks our entry into the Resurrected life of Christ.  We will gather around this table with a great multitude others in heaven and on earth to sing and give thanks to the salvation that belongs to our God.  We will join with a countless host of others and join in God's plan to put evil in it's place.  We will enter into unceasing praise where God's goodness never ends, no matter what.   

Join with me, with saints from ages past, with a countless host of others in that heavenly throne room and around this altar, and surround the world with the song of God’s salvation.  “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”  Alleluia!