Towards the end of the first century when the book of Revelation was written the Christian community around the world are undergoing persecution and John the writer is longing for some kind of reassurance that the inheritance of the coming Kingdom of God will be able to survive the threat of the Roman Emperor Domatian. So in one sense, he is looking into the abyss, just like Mary did when she stared into an empty tomb. For John life was empty being imprisoned and vulnerable he looks to God for comfort.
What he saw was glorious. And terrifying. In chapter 5 his fears are heightened as he discovers no one is worthy to open the scroll and claim the inheritance of the Kingdom for the believers. And John weeps like Mary, downcast and discouraged. Then he hears a voice, don’t weep. He turns and there in his vision is the contradiction of the Kingdom. A lamb looking like it had been slain; standing in the centre of the throne surrounded by all heaven. What an amazing picture of vulnerability and power!
To reflect more on this passage listen to my sermon at the Re-Imagining Church conference sanctuaryfirst.org.uk/conference/watch (video entitled ‘Communion’).
Here is a beautiful hymn written by Eliza Cargill identifying with the longing for God to intervene in the midst of our suffering and make all things new. Let’s use this verse as our prayer today.
Lord of the Broken Hearted
"Lord of the broken-hearted and Lord over all
We are still waiting to hear your call
Though we are broken hearted though we may fall
We must be willing
Ready and listening
Trusting you lord over all
For only you can restore in us hope
For only you can revive us again
Only you can answer the prayers of our hearts
So Lord we cry out to you.”
5 Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 2 and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4 And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. 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.’
6 Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8 When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 They sing a new song:
‘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;
10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.’
11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 singing with full voice,
‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honour and glory and blessing!’
13 Then I heard 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 honour and glory and might
for ever and ever!’
14 And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the elders fell down and worshipped.