3d Sunday of Easter
April 9, 1989
Rev 5: 11-14
St. Theresa, Bronx
This Sunday (April 10) I celebrated Mass for Scouts doing the NYLT course at Putnam Valley, N.Y., and preached on the gospel from an outline. Here's a written-out homily on the 2d reading from "olden days."
“I heard every creature … saying, ‘To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’” (Rev 5: 13).
The Revelation of John uses many symbols to convey the Christian message. In today’s 4 verses, e.g., we have a throne, living creatures, elders, and a Lamb.
John’s vision pictures heaven as an imperial court where God the Father rules the universe. All the angels and every bodily creature pay him homage.
The living creatures mentioned here ch. 5 are described more fully in ch. 4. Their imagery is borrowed from the OT prophets. There are 4 creatures, and each of them has a different visage. One appears like a lion, one like an ox, one like and eagle, and one like a man. They represent the wild and the domestic animals, the birds of the air, and human beings—the whole of earthly creation. In a slightly different interpretation, they represent certain qualities: nobility (that’s the lion), strength (the ox), swiftness (the eagle), and wisdom (the man); in this interpretation, these are the most outstanding qualities of living creatures. In either case, the whole of earthly creation and all its qualities are at heaven’s throne worshiping God.
|The 4 living creatures and the elders worship the Lamb (source unknown)|
The elders—again, according to ch. 4, there are 24 of them—represent all of God’s chosen people. Jacob’s 12 sons became the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel in the OT. Jesus’ 12 apostles are the patriarchs of the new Israel, the Church. The new Israel of Christianity grows from the old Israel of Judaism. Both are God’s people. Both worship the living God and sing his praises in a way unique among all of earthly creation. And the elders represent us who are here this morning.
The Lamb that had been slain has a prominent place in the heavenly court. Like God the Father, it is worshiped. This, of course, is the Lamb of God that was sacrificed in atonement for the sins of mankind. This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is the Lamb whom “God exalted at his right hand as Ruler and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).
When you listen to the final parts of Handel’s Messiah, you hear some beautiful renditions of the hymns from Revelation, including these from ch. 5. Every creature in heaven, on earth, and in the sea sings these hymns to God the Father and to Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain for us. Every creature acknowledges the sovereignty of God and the Lamb over all of us. We shout joyfully: “Blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” Heaven, if you like, has become a giant pep rally.
Our liturgy attempts to echo the heavenly liturgy. The scene painted by John is a liturgical one, one of public worship. Ideally, crowds of grateful Christians would fill our churches and sing out God’s praises, communing heart and soul with their Lord and Savior each resurrection day, each Sunday.
There’s a little story about conversion of the people of Ukraine to Christianity. It seems that Vladimir, prince of Kiev, wanted his subjects to adopt the most sublime religion they could find. He sent deputations far and wide to see how his neighbors worshiped God. They visited the Moslems along the Volga, and the Khazars of the Crimea, who had adopted Judaism. In Germany they found Latin Christianity—that’s our kind. But when they met Byzantine or Greek Christianity in the great cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, with its clouds of incense, its chanting and ritual, its mosaics, icons, and vestments, they thought they’d surely found heaven: “We did not know,” they reported, “whether we were in heaven or on earth. It would be impossible to find on earth any splendor greater than this, and it is vain to attempt to describe it…. Never shall we be able to forget so great a beauty.” So Prince Vladimir and the people of Kiev became Christians with Eastern liturgy and laws. And so the Ukrainians and the Russians remained until the persecutions of Lenin and Stalin, and so many of them have remained despite Communist persecution, like the apostles of old.
I doubt that many non-Christians entering a Catholic church today would think they were in heaven. But if heaven on earth isn’t here around the altar of the Lamb, around God’s living Word, then where shall we find it? We won’t, until we become convinced that God loves us and desires our presence; until we desire his presence and want to be part of those “thousands and tens of thousands” of creatures shouting and singing before him, thanking him for our sisters and brothers, our community, our local church, thanking him for wiping out our sins, thanking him for Jesus. Isn’t that why we came out in this miserable weather this morning?
Our weekly worship, our weekly communion with Jesus, is a dress rehearsal for eternity. In heaven, of course, our love will be perfected. In the meantime, we love and we worship as best we can, and we try to turn the world around us—all of it, not just this building—in to a little bit of heaven by our faith, our hope, our love, and our worship.