This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Third Sunday of Easter. I am continuing my sermon series on the book of Revelation, which I’ve been personifying as “Crazy Uncle Revelation.” The text today was Revelation 5:11-14.
Today is the Third Sunday of Easter, a fifty-day season when we focus on Jesus’ resurrection, and what that means for us. And during this particular Easter season, we are looking at the resurrection with the help of a companion, the book of Revelation. Last week, I talked about how the books of the Bible are companions for us, almost like an extended family. And I described the book of Revelation as the crazy uncle of the family, someone who sometimes spouts off conspiracy theories and nonsense, but who also sings beautiful, timeless songs to God.
One of those songs was our second reading today. This song is glorious, majestic, heavenly! But if you read Revelation before and after the song, you’ll see that there is sadness and suffering there. And there’s a reason for that.
Crazy Uncle Revelation was originally intended to be a letter, a letter written to seven churches who were suffering great persecution at the time. It tells the story of John, a man who saw a vision from God, a vision to share with these churches to give them hope in the midst of their suffering. So in chapter 5, our Crazy Uncle tells us this:
John was taken into the heavenly court, and he stood before the throne of God, surrounded by lightning and thunder, surrounded by twenty-four elders dressed in white, surrounded by four magnificent living creatures. All of them were singing praises to God.
The hand of God reached out from the throne. And in that hand was a scroll, written on both sides, sealed with seven seals. On this scroll was God’s plan for the world. This scroll would explain everything that had ever happened, everything that would ever happen. This scroll would show that the suffering of the churches, the suffering of the world, was not in vain. This scroll would answer everything. But it couldn’t do so until someone opened its seals. And there was nobody present who could. John wept bitterly at this, because this meant that God’s plan would never be accomplished. Suffering would continue, and it would be for nothing.
And suddenly, something new! Someone new was there! A lamb came forward, a slaughtered lamb, who still bore the marks of his suffering. The lamb approached the throne, and took the scroll. Hundreds of thousands of angels began to worship the lamb. And when they saw that the lamb was about to open the scroll, today’s song began. Every creature in heaven began to sing.
And every creature on earth began to sing. Every creature under the earth, and in the sea began to sing. Dogs. Cats. Elephants. Birds. Fish. Insects. Trees. Mushrooms. Bacteria. All began to sing, because the Lamb was going to open the scroll. And people sang. Every person on earth. Even people who were now suffering. Because when the lamb opened the scroll, they knew a change was coming.
And yet suffering wasn’t over yet.
Right after this song, the Lamb started to open the seals. And Crazy Uncle Revelation has some stories to tell about those seals being opened. Boy, howdy. Stories about dragons and horsemen and beasts and plagues and … suffering.
And yet the people sang. And yet all creation sang. Even though the suffering was not yet over. And this is precisely the way Crazy Uncle Revelation talks, throughout the whole book. He tells us about suffering and frightening sights, and then in the next instant he sings in full voice with all of heaven and earth, in praise of God. More suffering, more singing.
He does this because Crazy Uncle Revelation sees the world we live in. He sees that suffering and pain still happen, and that God’s good news wasn’t an immediate end to that. No, God’s good news was even greater, and far, far stranger. God’s good news is that precisely in the midst of that suffering, in the midst of the dragons and beasts that fill our world, the Lamb has won the victory.
Crazy Uncle Revelation wasn’t sharing a vision of the distant future. He was sharing a vision of the world today. A vision of a time and place where we know what it is to suffer. A vision of a time and a place where we nonetheless sing. That’s what the second century was. That’s what the twenty-first century is.
In a way, Crazy Uncle Revelation is the one who invented weekly worship. For almost two thousand years, Christians have gathered every seven days to raise songs of praise, no matter what the world was like around them. And a surprising number of our songs come directly from his lips.
Crazy Uncle Revelation tells the story of resurrection. The good news that Christ is risen. That the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign.
And so, even now, even in a world with so much pain, we sing to God and to the Lamb: “Blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” Not because we see it. The victory of Christ is not obvious as we look around the world. Wars and hatred, bigotry and oppression, droughts and fires, earthquakes and shootings. Man-made disasters and natural disasters both, the kind of things that our Crazy Uncle called beasts and dragons and horsemen. And yet we praise. We praise because we see the victory not with our eyes, but with our faith.
Our faith tells us that Christ has won the victory, and that all the suffering around us is not in vain. Christ has won the victory, and his suffering was not in vain. His suffering has redeemed the world. Christ has won the victory, and now we can sing in spite of our suffering. And we sing not only for ourselves, but for all those around us.
When we see someone we love in pain, we sing God’s song for them.
When we read or watch the news about someone suffering, we sing God’s song for them.
When we see any of God’s creation, human, animal, plant, the earth itself, suffering, we sing God’s song for them.
Singing God’s song for people is not telling them, “Hey, everything’s okay,” when it’s not. Singing God’s song is so much more. God’s song is a song of power, a song of change. Singing God’s song to them is opening not only our mouths, but our hearts.
When we sing God’s song to our loved ones, we sit with them and comfort them.
When we sing God’s song to suffering people in other lands, we share of our wealth with them, so they might have food.
When we sing God’s song to the suffering earth, we begin to make decisions that are sustainable and kind.
Crazy Uncle Revelation gave us some words for this song: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb, may all these things be forever and ever!”
When we sing that song, that song of faith in the midst of suffering, God changes the world. God heals the world. God re-creates the world. We are among the people John saw singing. May we do so even today. May we always, always sing.