Easter Vision: Worship

March 12th, 2013

Revelation 5:11-14

Today’s epistle lesson continues the reading of the book of Revelation. This revelation was given to enable Christians to avoid becoming confused about their own faith in the midst of rejection and persecution. It introduces us to the new clarity, the new vision that Easter makes possible in our lives.

Last week, we read in Revelation 1:4-8 of the vision Christ had given John of Christians as a kingdom of priests. We focused on the word priests. We searched Scripture for a fresh vision of what it means to be a kingdom of priests. Without this Easter vision, it is likely that our understanding of what it means to be a Christian will be skewed by individual definitions or cultural assumptions about the priesthood of all believers.

The same is true with today’s reading from Revelation 5. Actually, the scene begins in chapter four as John sees a door open into heaven. This is a way of saying this scene reveals what reality is like in the kingdom of God. John looks and sees the throne of God surrounded by twenty-four elders with golden crowns on their heads, reminders of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of Jesus. Also around the throne are four living creatures: one like a lion, one like an ox, one like a human being, and one like an eagle (wild animals, domesticated animals, humanity, and animals above the earth).

Then John sees a scroll sealed with seven seals. An angel asks: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (5:2). But no one can be found until a Lamb appears—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—and takes the scroll.

This revelation of the one who is worthy to open the scroll leads to great jubilation in heaven. John’s description of the scene includes thousands of angels singing “Worthy is the slaughtered Lamb / to receive power, wealth, wisdom, and might, / and honor, glory, and blessing” (v. 12). In response to this glorious ascription of praise to God, the four living creatures shout “Amen” and the twenty-four elders fell down and worshipped (v. 14).

The word that comes to us loudly and clearly in this passage is worship. Indeed, Revelation is sometimes referred to as the book of worship in the Bible. Many passages get a lot of attention because they speak of the battle between good and evil. But the dominant theme that ties together all the parts of the book is worship.

In scenes like this one we are given a new vision—an Easter vision— of worship. If asked why we place such high importance on worship, we might talk about a sense of awe and wonder, the majesty of God, excellence we offer God, connecting with history and tradition, anchor, rooting, grounding, silence, fellowship, familiarity, and music.

Each of these is a good reason to value worship, but look at the Easter vision of worship in Revelation. As we listen to the elders, the four living creatures, and the myriad of angels praising God, we hear other voices—all in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the sea—all creation joining the worship of Jesus Christ.

In other words, we learn that worship is the future toward which we are headed. When we worship, we are living in God’s future. It is God who calls us forward to worship. It is God who forms us through worship: practicing unity, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, love. It is God who scatters us from worship to live as Christ’s representatives in the world. We are called together for worship. We are transformed by worship. We are sent from worship.

How does worship accomplish this glorious work of unifying all creation in the praise of Christ? Revelation speaks of worship as trinitarian— God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a very particular understanding of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. When worship is focused on God, then our lives are given great strength and a sense of eternal purpose.

In verse 12, all of heaven sings. When we listen to someone else sing, we can remain passive, a detached observer. But as soon as we start singing ourselves, we become part of the song and the song becomes part of us, transforming us. Something happens to those who sing powerful words of praise genuinely and authentically. We don’t watch worship; we do worship, and we are transformed. Without Easter vision we miss this understanding of worship as living in the future right now.

To worship is to go way beyond respecting and appreciating; to worship is to focus our lives on someone or something. Worship becomes very dangerous when what we are worshiping is something less than the triune God. But when we join this trinitarian worship, uniting our voices with the twenty-four elders, the four living creatures, the myriad of angels, and all the rest of creation—then we too become part of God’s future.

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