Not Done Yet

John begins his apocalyptic journey in the middle of an eternal worship service - but then things begin to change.

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NINETEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Revelation 4 & 5

In chapter one of Revelation, we met John, exiled on theisland of Patmosfor his faith in Jesus – “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” He is writing toseven churchesin Asia Minor , whom we met in chapters 2 and 3. John writes them as a brother who shares with them “in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance” of their faith. He writes also as a prophet who encourages them and calls them to repentance regarding the challenges they are facing – assimilation, persecution, and complacency.

John writes as a seer, a visionary. He is writing an apocalypse to pull back the curtains and unveil what is going on behind the scenes. And, in chapter four, John begins his apocalyptic journey. To the church atLaodicea, John promised that Christ was knocking at the door, seeking to enter. Now, through John, the door of heaven is flung open for them. The trumpet voice that spoke to John in chapter one now summons him – “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place.” (4:1c)

At once, John finds himself in heaven – at a worship service. There in the middle, is the One seated on the throne. The throne has the appearance of rare jewels and is surrounded by a brilliant rainbow. Around the throne are 24 thrones with the 24 elders, dressed in white robes and wearing golden crowns. Lightening flashes and thunder crashes from the throne. There are seven blazing torches (which is the seven-foldspirit of God) and, before the throne, there is something like a clear, crystal sea.

Prowling around the throne are four animals – all eyes – eyes looking ahead – eyes looking behind. One is like a lion; one is like an ox; one has a human face; one is like an eagle in flight. They all have wings. And they continually sing day and night:

Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.

As the four creatures chant, the elders are also in a perpetual state of worship. They throw down their crowns before the throne as a sign of obeisance and they sing as well:

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.

This is thetrue center of the world– this is the true seat of power – this is the one who is worthy of worship. And this is contrary to the immediate experience of theseven churches. In their immediate experience, Rome is the center of the world. In their immediate experience, Rome is in control. In their immediate experience, the Emperor is the key figure.

But behind the scenes, at the heart of things, things are much different than they seem on the surface. The true center, the true seat of power, the one worthy of worship is God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth.

This is what John witnesses. And this is what he shares with the seven churches who are undergoing their time of trial.

Everything is all set out. Everything is in good order. Then, in chapter 5, the surprises begin to happen.

John sees, in the right hand of the One seated on the throne, a scroll withseven seals. And an angel proclaims in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to take the scroll and break the seals?”

John looks around and sees that no one was worthy. And John begins to weep. But one of the elders says, “Do not weep. There is one who is worthy. It is theLion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who has conquered who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals.”

Then, in the midst of the throne and the creatures and the elders, John sees a Lamb – slaughtered, but standing tall. It is not a powerful and majestic Lion that John sees. It is a slaughtered and conquered Lamb who has conquered. The Lion inflicts death; the Lamb has endured death. In fact, the Greek word for “lamb” is in a diminutive form – “lambkin.” Unlike the Lion, it is weak and it is vulnerable and it is innocent.

While the people of the seven churches would have heard other apocalypses, they would have never heard of one with a Lamb for a divine hero. It is a Lamb who recalls thePassoverof Israel. It is a Lamb who recalls the Suffering Servant in Isaiah: ”He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (53:7) And it is a slaughtered, but standing Lamb who bears witness to the crucifixion andresurrection of Jesus.

It is a slaughtered Lamb who reveals the power of love, a power greater than any army, a power greater than any emperor, a power greater than any nation on earth. Again this is contrary to the experience of the seven churches. But this is the reality of faith – at the heart of power stands thethrone of God, and also Jesus, the Lamb who was slain.

The moment the Lamb takes the scroll, the creatures and the elders break out into worship again – this timesinging a new song, a song that has never been sung before:

You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God.

Then the worship spreads out in ever widening circles – from the creatures and the elders, to the myriads and myriads and thousands and thousands of angels, who sing:

Worthy is the Lambwho was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might andhonor and gloryand blessing!”

At last, John hears every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, all singing:

To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb beblessing and honor and gloryand might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures say, “Amen to that!” and the elders fall down and worship.

The true center of the world is the throne of God. Around this throne are gathered all the beings of heaven and all thecreatures of the earth. And they are all singing. From this center also comes the revelation of what is really going on.

The scroll may be representative of the scriptures, for the ancient scriptures always came in the form of scrolls. In this sense, the scroll reveals what God is doing in the world. The scroll may be representative of an imperial edict, a divine decree. The seals insure that the sender of the decree is its true source and only one who is authorized by the sender can break the seals and open the decree. I think in both cases what is intended is the sense that God’s work is not complete. The major events have happened, but there is still work to be done.

This is so we know that, as bad as things look, God is not done. As threatening as things appear, God is still in charge. As hopeless as things seem, God is still at work, seeking the transformation and healing of the whole world.

Maybe that’s why we come to church. It is a reflection of what is going on in heaven – a pale reflection, to be sure – but a reflection nonetheless. We come to remind ourselves that, after a week of getting pulled this way and that, the true center of our lives is God. We come to connect both with our neighbors and with the broad world so that we remember that there is something larger than ourselves afoot in the world.

And we come to hear that, no matter how bad things get, no matter how discouraged we become, God is still at work. God is not done with us yet. God is not done with you. God is not done with me. God is not done with the whole world. We come to hear that God is still working to make all things new that we might, in a world of uncertainty, live as people of Hope.