The Power of the Lamb
By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Today I’d like to talk with you about that power which, in the end, is the only power worth talking about. In the name of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The scripture readings we hear Sunday by Sunday are arranged in a three-year cycle. Currently we are in the third year of that cycle. During this year, the Sundays of Easter Season, starting on the second Sunday, feature readings from the Revelation to John. This is the one period in the cycle where such attention is given to Revelation. On these Sundays we hear some of the central passages in the most mysterious and misinterpreted book of the New Testament and possibly of the whole Bible.
Can we make sense of this kaleidoscope of curious images? Can we find here something of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a message of hope to sustain us in our world today, a world where hope appears in short supply? I believe we can.
Let me first set the scene for today’s passage. A Christian named John is held as a prisoner for his faith on the small island of Patmos off the western coast of what is now Turkey. He experiences the elaborate, dramatic vision that is the basis for the Book on Revelation on what he calls the Lord’s Day, and what we call Sunday: in other words, the day of the week on which Jesus rose from the dead. He tells us that he was in the Spirit when the vision came to him, that it was somehow a gift from God.
It is still early in the vision when John looks up to heaven and sees a door standing open. A voice invites him to come up, and soon heaven is where he finds himself.
There, at the center of the scene, is a throne surrounded by a rainbow, and someone seated on this throne. This someone looks like two precious stones: one perhaps the color of amber, the other perhaps the color of flame.[Austin Farrer, The Revelation of St. John the Divine: A Commentary on the English Text (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 88.] The enthroned one is not otherwise portrayed here, but his majesty is implied by John’s description of what happens around the throne.
And what wondrous activity there is! From the throne come sights and sounds: flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. In front of the throne stand seven burning torches. Encircling the throne are two dozen other thrones, on which are seated two dozen elders wearing white robes and golden crowns. In front of the throne is a sea of glass like crystal. Beside the throne are four remarkable creatures, each of them with many eyes and six wings, and each with a different face. These four creatures sing without interruption a song known to us from our use of a similar one in the Eucharist. What they sing is this: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.
As this song sounds forth, the two dozen elders cast their crowns before the throne and sing their own hymn celebrating God as creator: 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.
John looks again at the gem-like figure on the throne and sees that the figure holds a scroll, a scroll sealed with not one seal, but seven, a scroll whose contents remain secret. Then he hears an angel cry out loudly, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seven seals?’
What happens next is dead silence. Nobody speaks. Nobody is found to open the scroll and read it. Nobody in heaven, on earth, or under the earth. Nobody is found worthy to do this.
John starts to weep, and he weeps bitterly. Why does he weep? The scroll that nobody is worthy to open is the scroll of history. To open it and read it means to make sense of history, to discern the meaning behind events, to carry out the Creator’s intention for creation. This is what it means to open the scroll. But the scroll remains unread, sealed seven times over. History remains a painful enigma.
John is not alone is his tears. Many of us have wept with him. When we run straight into the hard edge of life, when we see suffering unabated, evil unchecked, justice notoriously absent, when we count up the crimes and blasphemies and terrors that fill the chronicles of yesterday and the news magazines of today, when we do not witness redemption and release, when good seems impotent and moral monsters hold sway–whenever these things appear before us, and we have a heart, then we too, like John, must weep, and our tears are bitter.
At best our tears flow into molds that form eloquent examples of philosophy and literature and art, protest and resistance, but more often our sorrow is not this articulate, and instead fills us with a a heavy sadness and darkens the atmosphere where all of us struggle to live. We grieve and mourn.
But one of the elders, dressed in a white robe and a golden crown, one of that worshipping assembly, addresses John and addresses us as well. “Do not weep,” he commands. “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
John looks again, and what he sees is the strangest sight of all the strange sights throughout his tremendous vision. The elder promised him a lion, and what stand before him is a lamb. But not just any lamb!
Near the throne, in the midst of the remarkable creatures and the two dozen elders, this lamb appears, a lamb that is alive, but bears the marks of slaughter. This lamb transcends the normal in other ways as well: it has seven horns and seven eyes, symbols of ultimate power and knowledge. This lamb takes the scroll of history from the figure seated on the throne.
The response is resounding! First, the remarkable creatures and the two dozen elders fall down in worship. They strum harps, filling the air with music. They lift up golden bowls, from which sweet incense clouds arise. And loudly they cheer the lamb, the lamb once dead but now alive forever: You are worthy to take the scroll and to 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 have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.
Today’s Revelation passage opens with the response to this acclamation. For an even more tremendous wave of sound rushes back, the voice of countless angels who call out a still stronger cheer for the lamb:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!
Then, John tells us, the entire universe erupts in song, with creatures in heaven and on earth, under the earth and in the sea, bursting forth with a cosmic cheer: To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!
The four remarkable creatures respond “Amen!” The two dozen elders prostrate themselves and worship. And we as well say “Amen!” We fall down and worship in the face of this tremendous event. Someone has appeared to open the scroll of history, to discern its meaning, to carry out the Creator’s intention.
Someone has come to dry our tears. Those tears we weep when we run straight into the hard edge of life, when we see suffering unabated, evil unchecked, justice notoriously absent, those tears we weep when we count up the crimes and blasphemies and terrors that fill the chronicles of yesterday and the news magazines of today, those tears we weep when we do not witness redemption and release, when good seems impotent and moral monsters so often hold sway. Someone has come to dry those tears.
The elder promised a lion, but what we see is a lamb, slaughtered yet alive, meek yet triumphant. A lamb deserving universal praise.
This is the lamb that died on a cross, rose from a grave, and now is alive and will reign forever. This lamb turns out to be the greatest lion of them all!
Through that wondrous kaleidoscope of symbols we call the Book of Revelation there shines forth the radiant truth that a new power has been let loose in the world through the Easter victory of Jesus. This is the power of the Lamb.
The power of the Lamb!
A love stronger than hatred.
A reconciliation stronger than estrangement.
A forgiveness stronger than sin.
A joy stronger than sorrow.
A peace stronger than violence.
A hope stronger than despair.
A life stronger than death.
The power of the Lamb!
That power can be the power in our lives. The Lamb’s victory feast is ours to enjoy today in Christ’s gift of Bread and Wine. Then forth we can go from here to live our lives in the power of the Lamb who is the greatest lion of them all.
I have spoken to you in the name of that Lamb, who with the Father and the Spirit is praised by all creation this day and forever.
Copyright 2006 The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.