I have always been a reader. As a younger person with free time, reading opened up worlds to me and it gave way for something I wasn’t always great at–imagination. I crossed the bridge to Tarabitha with Jesse, I walked through a wardrobe with Lucy, I rode a train to Hogwarts with the real hero–Hermine, I journeyed through a cave with Bilbo–which is as far as I made it because it felt like we were in the cave for the whole book. It was when I saw the movie that it realized the feeling of forever in that cave was all in my imagination. And that, sometimes having an image, a movie, ruins all possibility of imagination.
Revelation is a book designed for imagination.
We’ve talked about how we can think of Revelation as a dream. We could also think about it as an allegory. Or that it is written in Picture language, painting an image in the mind of those who would hear it (because it would have been spoken aloud or performed). That is what is going to help make what happens in the reading today not seem like a nightmare.
But, as we get started today, I thought to spend a moment talking again about Revelation in general as it lives in our imagination more than what we really know. There are 4 basic ways that we think about this book of Revelation, there are differences within each category but here they are:
1: a “straightforward” account of the end of the world–this is, surprisingly enough, what you see on horror or sci-fi shows and movies. It’s also what you find in the Left Behind marketing juggernaut. It’s where you’ll find folks with a Bible in one hand and newspaper in the other searching for signs, where you will find when folks are telling you that the end is nigh! or setting particular dates for the return of Christ–has happened kind of a lot over the past 2000 years.
2: interpret it through its 1st century historical context–which is the most “academic” way of interpreting or setting the book. It’s this part where folks will think about who were the powers, who was the letter written to, what was happening in the world.
3: struggles facing the journey of the soul to God which seems to make this the most spiritual or mystic interpretation. It makes it almost all allegory and personal;
and 4: an interpretive lens to view history. My interpretation of this interpretation is that there is some understanding of truth and so how do we understand what has happened in the world with an eye to what John was trying to tell in this letter.
I think that it is more than possible to find yourself in any of these interpretations or all of them, or moving between them from day to day, or moment to moment, or within the same sermon. Let’s see how we do today…
We are still in the throne room, we are still surrounded by the strange creatures and the 24 elders. Before we get to the big surprise moment in the middle, the scene ends with all of creation singing again. This time singing “Worthy”
This throne room that John writes about is set in contrast to the throne rooms of the time, primarily Rome. At this time in Roman Empire, there was an Imperial Cult–there was an understanding that the Emperor had some unique connection with the gods–was a god, son of a god. And when the Emperor would enter the room, the masses would sing a song–Worthy is the Emperor”. And before you give them a hard time, don’t forget the song “hail to the Chief”.
So what makes the emperor worthy? The emperor cult was found power in conquest and prosperity, it was about control and expansion. It is shown in Rome art, it is described in histories, and assumed here. They showed their power through dominating, through subjecting, through trouncing upon others, upon those weaker.
So we might not be surprised when the Angel says that the Lion on Judah is worthy. The lion is a symbol of strength, maybe even violence, and power. The lion brings fear and it wins. It was used in the histories and stories of early Israel–the nomadic people searching for a home. It was used to describe how they would come into the land, how they were overcome and overpower.
So when John hear that the Lion of Judah, the one that he has heard about, is worthy–these are the ideas and connotations that come with the hearing, these are the images that he has in his head, this is what he imagines. And he turns to look and there… is a lamb. A lamb is not powerful. A lamb has no inherent strength. A lamb controls nothing, conquers nothing, dominates nothing. And, this lamb, in particular, is living with the wounds, the scars, the wounds, the ongoing injuries. This lamb is not the lion.
And yet, this is the lamb they call worthy.
We’re going to take this moment for a deal with this image of the lamb–like one slaughtered and with 7 eyes and 7 horns. Now, if you can’t imagine what that would look like, you’re welcome to search for images but I’m not encouraging that horror show for you. On the other hand, these medieval images are hilarious. We are hearing in metaphors. Horns were a symbol of power. Eyes were a symbol of insight and wisdom. 7 is a number of completion and fullness. So these are images of complete power and complete wisdom. again, metaphors.
And yet, this is the lamb they call worthy.
What makes someone worthy to pick something up, to take something on? Some preachers might regale you with the story of King Arthur, but not me. I am here with Marvel spoilers that are more than 2 years old, so I think we’re ok–just don’t tell the Mouse we’re doing this.
The Marvel Comic and movie universe includes among its heroes the Norse god Thor. As a god he is strong and capable of mighty acts and some control of nature. Like Spiderman and his webbing, and Wolverine and his claws, Thor has a hammer–Mjolner. And only the one who is worthy can wield it. Not only wield it–even pick it up. When the Avengers were a cohesive team, there was a day they put it to the test. It turned out, at that moment, it was just Thor.
Then we get to the Endgame–and in Thor’s moment of need, it turned out there was another one worthy. What made Captain America worthy? He was chosen from the beginning not because he was the best warrior, but because he was a good man. He would make the hard choices to save his friends, to believe in redemption, to hope.
The Lamb is about vulnerability and sacrifice. What makes the Lamb–Jesus–worthy isn’t based on conquering, but based on who God is, what God longs for, how God is interacting in the world. God is revealing what power, what might, what the plan for the kin-dom of God is all about. The power of God isn’t about conquering, empire, domination, subjugation of the weak and vulnerable. but about being vulnerable. God’s power is revealed, unleashed through the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus–the Lamb. Victory is revealed in redeeming the struggling, setting free the oppressed, offering dignity to the marginalized, healing the sick and outcast, community-membership-family-identity in the kin-dom of God for everyone, but especially those left out left behind. The power of God is revealed in the lamb.
This isn’t the power of the world, that even today favors the powerful, the wealthy. That continues to dominate, control, oppress. We are going to align ourselves with something, with someone, with some kingdom or kin-dom, some power, some might.
We are called to not participate in the powers of the world, not align ourselves in the powers of this world but in the world, the powers of God revealed in the Lamb. This is the world, the kin-dom, the power that we are invited into–the power that liberates, redeems, supports, welcomes, reconciles, renews, hopes, reaches out. That is the power and the purpose of Revelation–the God of love loving the world through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lamb. We, the church of the Lamb, of Christ, loving the world, aligning ourselves with those that God loves, with acts of love, with a life of love. We are to be part of the work of the Lamb–liberating, reconciling, lifting up, dignity. community. So that my we, with all of creation sing “worthy is the Lamb who taught us to love.”