“Visions of Love”
06 August 2017 St. Andrew’s Military Chapel
Last week I made a passing comment about how apocalyptic literature, specifically Revelation, can seem more like science fiction than reality. Tales full of mythical creatures and fantastic scenes that defy reality and sometime exceed our imagination. Just as those tales describe deeper truths and ideas represented by the characters and settings of the story, so too Revelation needs keen interpretation.
This chapter is where the allegory, or representation of deeper truths with fantastical elements of writing really begins to take off in Revelation. So, I want to again describe the posture I take in reading Revelation. Because of the nature of the imagery and the many diverse ways people have interpreted the meaning of the symbols, images, numbers, and characters in this and the following chapters, it is vital to define the posture we bring to reading Revelation.
If you are anticipating tales of how Revelation will predict the collapse of governments, impending wars that will devastate the world, predictions of how God will snatch people straight out of their clothes, or how those left behind will face unbearable trials and fight to save the characteristics that define humanity, I fear you will be disappointed over the next few weeks. This chaplain doesn’t read Scripture, especially Revelation with that expectation. If that is what you were expecting I will point you to theologians who share that reading. However, I will also ask that you give another reading a compassionate ear.
When we read Scripture in its entirety we find a story of a loving God repeatedly calling humanity to walk with the divine in a personal way. Unfailing love towards humans that frequently fail and disappoint sometimes even defacing and humiliating the one that transcends everything on earth. In Genesis, God pronounces creation as good but shows humanity’s special place in God’s heart by decreeing humans as very good. We were the apple of God’s eye from the beginning. God wants us to succeed and will always love us despite, and in spite of, our flaws of which there are many.
God called Abram out from Ur not to the exclusion of others, but rather as the vehicle from which all will be exposed to and included in the unfailing and unbounded love of God towards all creation. It’s the reason all of creation, everything that has breath praises the Lord. Praise which we vividly saw in the Scripture passages the last two weeks.
As we continue to read Scripture we see humanity failing to love God and follow God’s guidance to include and love all in response to the love we have received ourselves. Despite our attempts to hoard and hide God’s love (including yours truly), it always shines through in the most unexpected places. God’s love always wins.
And that is what we see in Revelation. Despite the darkest foe, the darkest power, the darkest side of the force, God’s love wins. Darth Maul, Darth Vader, the Emperor, Kylo Ren are no match for the light of God shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.
When we understand God’s desire for us in this way and read Scripture in a way that describes God’s desire for hope and inclusion, Revelation is revealed as a beautiful and pastoral vision of the Kingdom of God and its ability to overcome the darkness of power politics, death, destruction, and exclusion.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the images we see in today’s passage.
The scroll for whom it is difficult to find a being that is worthy to open represents God’s plan for humanity which is hidden from us until God is ready for us to understand and see that plan. Because of the magnitude of such a plan, it is only fitting that the individual chosen to open and look upon that plan be of a certain makeup and character. It’s also not surprising that John weeps bitterly at the realization that no one was found worthy to open the scroll.
We all want to know our purpose and reason in life. If we were in the presence of the document, item, or person that could shed light on the arc of our lives most of us would experience a strong desire to hear of said plan. John has been drawn into a heavenly vision where he is expecting a revelation of God’s plan of, in, and for humanity. It’s right there in front of him, yet will his vision fail to provide the answers he desperately seeks? John’s reaction is completely understandable.
So is his surprise when the one found worthy to open the scroll is the Lamb. Human nature has an expectation that only the powerful can change the world. That power comes from human ideas and notions of strength and vitality. Yet, in this vision, just as in the Gospels, power is turned upside down. We expect a lion to come roaring in and save humanity through military might and typical notions of power. However, the one who is worthy of seeing and revealing God’s plan for humanity is the lamb that was slain by its own choice.
Throughout Revelation we see Christ represented as a lamb, counteracting the expectations of the mighty lion ruling over the kingdom. And this vision of the lamb in Revelation echoes the Passover Lamb from Exodus as well as the lamb we read about in Isaiah 53. Christ came not as a conqueror but rather as a self-sacrificial savior of all. Christ’s self-sacrifice is the only power that matters in the cosmic drama unfolding in this vision, in the drama that enfolds us each and every day.
This sacrifice was not for a small number of people. Christ’s sacrifice was for everyone in the world, regardless of nation or creed. Just look at hymn sung about the sacrificial lamb in verses 9 and 10, “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.” Christ’s sacrifice brought forth God’s Kingdom on earth from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Again, an emphasis on inclusion rather than exclusion from participation in God’s Kingdom and plan for humanity in the cosmic drama we see playing out in John’s vision.
We have seen in this chapter a vision of how God will include humanity in the plan for creation. In fact, we have seen how only Christ through his self-sacrifice for the world is the one being able to see and understand God’s plan for creation. Through Christ and his sacrifice for us we are invited to participate in God’s plan for all of creation, for every living thing. This isn’t a small plan for only a select few. Rather, this plan is for everyone that desires to be part of God’s Kingdom, for there are myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands singing God’s praises and participating in this ultimate plan for creation.
This is also a vision of hope. In the midst of John’s despair that all was for naught and that no one would be found worthy to handle God’s plan for creation, Christ stepped forward to see and reveal the plan. While we’ll never fully know the plan for creation on this side of eternity, we can look towards and model the life of Christ to get a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God does in the world and to begin to understand our role in creation.
It is a way of life that seeks peace, unity, love, mercy, grace, inclusion, care for all of creation, not just humans, hope in the certainty of God’s benevolence and ultimate victory over the dark side of the force, and inclusion of all into the plan and eventual praise and thanks for the goodness of God.
If that sounds like a lot to take in and understand, it is. After all we are dealing with eternal and transcendent things in Revelation. Nothing is too small or too large to be discussed and included in God’s plan of redeeming creation and bringing creation together in harmony. Perhaps the hardest part is the waiting and not knowing if we are on the right path. It is for that reason that Christ came to earth, to show us the way. To guide us and give us a glimpse into the heavenly plan of which all of creation will play a part. The Gospel is that we all will play a part because God loves us and wants to include us in the wonder of creation. That is our hope and joy in life.
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