Revelation 7:9-17

Sing the Song Yourself

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

Today let’s look up into heaven,
that we may find out how to live on earth.
In the name of the God of both earth and heaven:
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Have you noticed that this year’s Easter Season
features many readings
from the Revelation to John?
This is perhaps the most misunderstood,
misinterpreted, and fascinating book of the Bible.

In today’s passage,
John takes yet another look
at what is happening in heaven.

Already he has seen
the four extraordinary winged creatures.

Already he has heard
the voices of angels,
ten thousand times ten thousand of them,
and the song of all creatures
in heaven and on earth,
under the earth and in the sea.

At the center of this awesome assembly
stands a throne surrounded by a rainbow,
and a victorious lamb,
bearing the marks of slaughter
yet magnificently alive.

Now the scene opens out
into an even more breathtaking vista.
Now what John sees
is a multitude too vast for anyone to count,
an international, interracial, interethnic assembly,
all dressed in white robes,
all carrying palm branches symbolic of their triumph.
The center of this great assembly
is the rainbow throne and the victorious lamb.

John will soon learn
that all of these people
have come out of the great ordeal.
They have washed their robes white again
in the Lamb’s blood.
Now they worship continually
there before the throne.

Have you ever heard an entire stadium
burst into singing?
It must be like that for John
when this assembly roars out their song!
It is impossible not to hear the sound,
yet it is so loud
that recognizing the words proves difficult.
Still John makes out what they sing:

Salvation belongs to our God
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!

Salvation belongs to our God
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!

The word translated here as “salvation”
is not some specialized theological term,
or an airy abstraction.
It means the total well-being of people.  1
To be saved is to flourish.

Many in the ancient Roman empire
claimed that the source of salvation
was the emperor.
John’s heavenly vision
subverts this claim.
It insists
that salvation has a different source.

Among the numerous marvels
described in the Revelation to John,
this is surely the most remarkable:
that so vast an assembly
unanimously acclaim
God and the Lamb
to be the source of salvation,
the source of total well-being for people.
God and the Lamb
cause people to flourish:
that is what John hears
as the song joyously sung in heaven.

What makes this marvelous
is that here on earth
we all too often sing other songs
about salvation.
You have heard them
and so have I.
These other songs
are sung incessantly.

Here is what some of these different songs announce:

• We are supposed to be
the source of our total well-being.

• We can buy at the mall
what we need for total well-being.

• We can reach an income level
that brings with it total well-being.

• We can be popular in the public eye
in a way that guarantees total well-being.

But the countless white-robed assembly in heaven
all raise their palm branches
and sing out yet again:

Salvation belongs to our God
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!

This song exposes the lie
in believing that salvation can be found
anywhere else.

• Total well-being does not come from us,
or from money, or from what money can buy,
or from celebrity status.

• Salvation does not come
through the Roman empire
or through American capitalism
or through any other human system.

In the end,
there’s only one place to turn:
to our God seated on the throne
and to the Lamb.

The scenes of celestial worship
found in the Book of Revelation
are heavy with glory and grandeur.
But that’s not all.
In the best biblical tradition,
they also represent a parody, a mockery,
of all those ways
we believe we can save ourselves
through what we are, what we have,
and how we look to others.

The song of the numberless multitude
is a hymn of praise to the God who saves us.
At the same time,
it is also something else.

Do you remember, gentle friends,
what a raspberry is?
One dictionary defines it as
“a sound of contempt
made by protruding the tongue between the lips
and expelling air forcibly
to make a vibration.” 2

Well, the song of the numberless multitude
is a raspberry
sounded against the vain and fruitless ways
we try to save ourselves
but only make matters worse.
Those robed in white,
with palm branches in their hands,
are simply telling it like it is.

There we have a definition of heaven!
It’s where everybody gets it.
Where everybody realizes
that we do not save ourselves,
and where everybody has been saved–
totally and irrevocably–
by the grace and mercy of God.

Unlike that countless multitude,
we here this morning
have not yet come out for the final time
from whatever ordeal, great or small,
it is ours to pass through.
We are not yet in heaven,
but here on earth.
Yet our privilege is to sing now on earth
what they sing in heaven:

Salvation belongs to our God
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!

Our singing this song
and living it
is what makes us the Church.

Consider the implications.
Because salvation does belong
to our God and to the Lamb,
we can stop our vain and fruitless efforts
to save ourselves,
the manifold ways we attempt
to bring about total well-being
as though it were all up to us.

In place of that,
we can love God with everything we’ve got,
and love our neighbors–
all of them–
as we love ourselves.
We can do this,
not to achieve salvation,
but in gratitude for salvation,
a gift we have
yet do not deserve.
Because genuine salvation is ours already
we are set free to love God and other people.

Listen then,
and you can hear the sound.
Our countless sisters and brothers,
dressed in white robes,
with palm branches in their hands,
are singing out in one tremendous chorus:

Salvation belongs to our God
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!

They’re singing,
not only about their salvation,
but about ours as well.

• Listen to them and realize
we cannot bring about our total well-being.

• Listen to them and realize
that God brings about our total well-being,
our salvation.

Then go and live your life.
Live your life
in that magnificent realization.
In a world that aches to hear it,
sing this song yourself:

Salvation belongs to our God
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!

I have spoken to you
in the name of the One
whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven,
and whose mercy is alive among us:
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

1.  Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Invitation to the Book of Revelation (Image Books, 1981), 92.

2.  Webster’s Seventh

Copyright 2014 Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.