Friday, December 18, 2009

The Universal Vision

Friday, December 18, 2009 -- Week of 3 Advent, Year Two

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 939)
Psalms 40 (morning) 54 (evening)
Zechariah 7:8 - 8:8
Revelation 5:6-14
Matthew 25:14-30

It is good to remember that in the book of Revelation, before there is any reference to punishment or destruction, we have the beautiful scenes of union and harmony that we've just read in chapters 4 and 5. John says that these are the things that must take place, and he describes the whole in the present tense.

Yesterday culminated with a glorious image of perfect heavenly harmony, as God's people and the whole of creation sings praises centered upon God who reigns in splendor. They are looking for one who is worthy to open the scroll, which is the narrative of human failure, judgment and redemption. The one worthy is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David" -- two messianic images of power and righteous violence.

Instead of a mighty warrior king, we see a Lamb appear today, almost unnoticed among the elders of the people. A Lamb is the opposite of a Lion. A Lamb is gentle. Lambs are objects of violence and subjects of sacrifice. This Lamb has the fullness of God's Holy Spirit, and is the one worthy to take the scroll of human history.

As he does, the universe bursts into song. The representatives of earth in heaven take their musical harps and "golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints," and they sing of the worthiness of the Lamb. The Lamb is worthy not because it has defeated enemies through warfare and intimidation, but because "you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation." It is the cross that brings life, and the life is for all -- every tribe, language, people and nation. The reign of the Lamb is an earthy reign, and it has religious and political significance -- "you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth."

Suddenly the scene expands exponentially, and previously unseen "myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands" of angels join the song of the heavenly court. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"

John realizes that the earth has also joined this universal chorus of praise. "Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, 'To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the scene closes with a grateful "Amen" from the people and creatures of heaven.

This is a compelling vision of the reality of God's reign that is behind, above, beneath and throughout the reality of creation. It is God's intention that all of the universe and everything that lives be united in a glorious harmony of joy. The act that accomplishes this glory is not an act of domination or triumphalism, but the gentle act of a sacrificial Lamb. This is God's triumph, and it is complete. Every living thing on earth, under the earth, in heaven and beyond is included in the vision of union and harmony. This is the vision that John gives to us before we begin to look at the reality of human destructiveness or at its consequences. We know that the end is universal reunion and harmony. Even now we are invited to join in that song.

Lowell

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