Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sermon; Easter 4C; Revelation 7:9-17

Chapter 7 of Revelation, from where our reading today is drawn, is what is known as an interlude between chapters 6 and 8.  This chapter gives us some much needed breathing space between the opening of seals six and seven.

Chapter 6 gives us the image of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  It tells of martyrs slaughtered for the testimony they have given.  It tells of earthquakes, a blackened sun, the blood moon, falling stars, and of people hiding in mountain caves.

Chapter 8 gives us the image of hail and fire mixed with blood, one-third of all living creatures being killed off, black days, and an eagle crying, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth!”

These are the chapters of John Hagee, Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and other end-times false prophets who prey on the fears of many, getting rich from the lies they spread.  These are the chapters of death, destruction, and limited salvation that people like to focus on and glorify.  These are chapters with blood and gore and punishment that has become the focus of so many.

It's no wonder that John put this interlude here – we need a break.  After all, there's only so much death and destruction a person can take.  In contrast, the whole of this chapter discusses those sealed as servants of God, the famed and much misunderstood 144,000, and the great multitude from today's reading.  As such, we need to look at the whole chapter.

Chapter 7 begins with a respite from the calamities being poured out upon the earth while angels are tasked with marking the servants of God with a seal on their foreheads.  There are many meanings and interpretations of this, and I won't go into them all, but this may be the most important meaning: at our baptism we are claimed and set apart as belonging to God, and we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.  We have been marked as servants of God and given an indelible seal on our forehead.

Those sealed as belonging to God are counted by John as being 144,000.  Actually, he doesn't count them, he “hears the number of those sealed, 144,000.”  That number has become some kind of magic number among apocalypse enthusiasts and “biblical literalists.”

Again, I won't go into details here, but it's important to note that, as with a lot of Revelation, the 144,000 is symbolic.  If you take the twelve tribes of Israel, combined with the symbolism of the twelve disciples cum apostles, and an understanding that one thousand was used the same way we use a million or a gazillion, you end up with a symbol of a whole lot of people represented in God's perfect square.  This is a symbolic number for John that represents both the perfection (12 x 12) of God, and a whole lot of God's people.

Which brings us to the actual reading for today.  “After this,” John writes, “I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne, robed in white.”

The “after this” is not part of our reading today, but it is how this passage begins in the actual chapter.  Some people misinterpret this phrase as John referencing a different group.  But what John has done is to tie the same group together with two different perspectives.

He hears the number 144,000, so he can imagine a whole lot of people assembled in God's perfection, and he sees an uncountable multitude.  What he sees reinforces what he hears.  That is, he is being shown through multiple senses an uncountable multitude gathered around the throne of God.  From every family, language, people, and nation he is shown a multitude of people, the perfect square of God's people, gathered around the throne in joyful song.

The vision John sees is a vision of past, present, and future.  The multitude he sees are those who have gone through the trials, the martyrs of ages past.  It is also a vision of the future.  The multitude he sees is the vision of what will be – a vision of victory for those in present struggles.  That seal I mentioned at the beginning doesn't prevent us from experiencing difficulties, but when things are coming undone, or unsealed, it keeps us sealed.

And this vision is a heavenly vision of I AM.  This is the vision of NOW.  It's a vision of victorious martyrs of ages past, the hope of a glorious future for God's people of today, and the present reality of now.  When we participate in the Eucharist, in the mystery of all of … this … we join with prophets, apostles, martyrs, and those in every generation, in the time of I AM, when we sing, “Holy, holy, holy Lord.”

Chapter 7 is a much needed interlude, a space for us to breathe, and it's placed there for a reason.  Revelation is not a checklist of the end times.  It is not a blueprint or chronological timeline for how things will happen.  Rather it is a book of hope and it is a book of now.

In every age there is chaos, war, famine, death, destruction, blood, and violence.  The four horsemen of the apocalypse are not a vision of the future, but a vision of the now.  They are the four horsemen of today bringing the conquest, war, famine, and death that ravages the world around us.

Rather than focusing on these things, predicting doom and gloom and trying to scare the hell out of people, what if we focused on the interlude?  We have been sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever.  We participate with the hosts of heaven in the holy mystery of the heavenly liturgy.  We have been, are now, and will again face trials, but an uncountable multitude of people from every family, language, and nation join together and sing, “Holy, holy, holy.”

This is the vision I want to focus on.  This is the vision I want to tell people about.  I don't want to claim a limited, literal number of saved.  I don't want to focus on death and destruction.  Instead, I want to know that we are present with God in the interlude.  And if we can get more people focused on Chapter 7, maybe chapters 6, 8, 9, and 10 will be more manageable.  Maybe if we focus more on Chapter 7, there will be no more hunger, we will all drink from the springs of eternal life, God will wipe away every tear, and an uncountable multitude will sing.

That's a vision of Revelation I can get behind.



First time comments will be moderated.