Easter 3 2019
Rev. Doug Floyd
In the late 80s, I went to Mexico with a group of guys on a very unorganized mission trip. We went to Torreon. Three times on the trip we almost caused a riot. Once we were with a group of children who were laughing and clapping. In their excitement, they started throwing rocks. Our guide quickly escorted us into a building as he said the crowd was on the verge of chaos. Then we were helping in a poverty district. A friend and I were so overwhelmed with the poverty all around us that we decided to buy candy to give away. We bought almost all the candy in a little shop on the way. As we started handing out candy on a ball field, the crowds swarmed us. They were so excited to get a piece of candy. Once again the crowd was on the verge of chaos when we ran out of candy, and we had to quickly get off the field. On the Day of the Dead, we went to a graveyard and were going to hand out tracks. I had some animal balloons with me and started making balloons. Suddenly, there was a line as far as the eye could see. All the men on our trip had to instantly learn how to make balloon animals, which we did until every last balloon was use up.
I was never sure how much good we did since all our efforts were pretty unorganized and chaotic. But I came away for the first time with an awareness of how much privilege I enjoyed. The people we were around had so little and worked so hard to simply survive. My experience of working with poor people in the inner city paled in comparison to the poverty I saw in Torreon. When I came back, I felt sick about our abundance and our waste compared to painful lives of struggle so many people endure.
This same feeling overwhelms me as I read about the suffering church around the world. Every day there are so many people suffering and dying throughout the world, and I want to cry out with the Psalmist, “How long O Lord?” In our reading from Revelation today, we are reminded that God is fully of aware of the injustices in our world, has entered into the depths of suffering, and will ultimately turn the world to rights.
Throughout The Revelation, Jesus is speaking to His church through His servant John. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The risen and ascended Lord who dwells in the heights of heaven also walks in and amongst His churches, His people, His royal priesthood. He sees their struggles, he knows their temptations, he addresses their fears. Even as his people live and serve in a variety of contexts, Jesus is calling them to remain faithful, to continue loving God and one another, not to grow weary, to trust Him and seek Him and His kingdom.
Even today, the people of God continue to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In Revelation 4 and 5, John is raised up into the heavenlies to behold “as it is in heaven.” John writes,
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. 
What he sees sounds familiar with the encounters of Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and other prophets of God. When Moses ascends Mt. Sinai there are lightnings and rumblings. Later when the elders ascend with Moses, they behold the Lord on his throne and under his feet a paved work of sapphire stone like the heavens in its clarity. Isaiah is in the Temple when he beholds the terrifying glory of Lord high and lifted up. Ezekiel, was trained to be a priest, but ended up with the captives in Babylon by the River Chebar. The Lord appears to him as though Ezekiel had stepped into the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem. He sees fire and brightness. A wheel within a wheel. Glorious creatures. He sees the glory of the throne of God like a sapphire stone and a rainbow surrounding the throne.
While all these visions and others are not exactly the same, there are similarities of glory, fire, beauty, and the throne of God in the midst. Moses and the elders behold this glory after being delivered from Egypt and at the beginning of becoming a nation. Isaiah beholds the glory of God right after the King of Judah has died. Ezekiel beholds the glory while he is in captivity.
In each vision, the glory of the Lord shines out from the Throne. There is no sense of fear at the conditions in the world. There is no sense that God has been taken unaware. In many of the visions, there are glorious creatures surrounding the throne in worship. In John’s vision there are representatives from humanity and from the animal world worshipping the Lord of glory. In one sense, we might suggest that all these visions communicate the absolute rule of God over his creation. Though darkness and troubles may rage across the earth there is no sense that this will threaten the rule of God.
We catch a glimpse of the true destiny of all living things: to worship and serve alongside the Lord of glory. The church enacts the moment of glory every week in what we call “The Anaphora.”
As we worship the Lord, we lift up our offerings before His throne, we also lift up our hearts before the Lord. In this lifting up, we behold our world through the lens of heaven and our only response can be to join with the host of heaven in proclaiming,
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
We join with the prophets and John and the elders and all creation as steps through the open door into heaven and behold the glory of God reigning over creation.
Though this is beautiful and wondrous to behold, we might be tempted to ask, does heaven see our suffering on this earth. In fact, how many people across the ages have shaken their fists toward heaven asking where is God in the midst of their pain. Where is God in the midst of death? Where is God in the midst suffering innocents? Where was God during the Holocaust? Where was God during our own personal suffering and darkness?
In our reading from Revelation 5, we hear heaven’s response to the sin and death in this world. John hears a voice cry out, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” The scroll is an image of the Father’s purposes in creation. In opening the scroll the world will be put to rights. But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it (Rev 5:2-3). When John realizes no one is worthy, he begins to weep. As he grieves, he enters into the suffering the shakes all creation. In Romans 8, we hear humans grieving, all creation grieving, and even the Spirit of God grieving for the sons of God to be revealed.
What is this grieving? Let us rehearse the story of Adam and Eve afresh. Created as priests of creation, men and women were created to rule and care for all creation: the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, and every creeping thing that walks the earth. But in Genesis 3, humans were seduced by the serpent and exchanged the glory of God for created things. This great exchange brought death and corruption and grieving into the heart of all creation.
Humans could not stop the horrors of sin and death. The children of Israel were raised up as a nations of priests and kings to overcome the curse with the original blessing given to Adam and promised to Abraham. But Israel failed and became even more accursed than the surrounding nations. Isaiah 59 tells us that “The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede (Is 59:15–16). He looked for the priestly people he had raised up but there was no one. They had all turned away.
As Isaiah continues to sing, he sings of the Lord responding to this absence of justice. “Then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak” (Is 59:16-17).
St. Paul would later understand that Isaiah was speaking of the Son of God. Every week we rehearse this good news when the Celebrant proclaims, “Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and when we had sinned against you and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent your only Son into the world for our salvation. By the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary he became flesh and dwelt among us. In obedience to your will, he stretched out his arms upon the cross and offered himself once for all, that by his suffering and death we might be saved. By his resurrection he broke the bonds of death, trampling Hell and Satan under his feet. As our great high priest, he ascended to your right hand in glory, that we might come with confidence before the throne of grace.”
In this passage from Revelation 5 this morning, all heaven is waiting for the only one who can make right the evil that has plagued the nations. Jesus Christ, who comes as the lamb of sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus Christ who comes as the scapegoat for all human destruction and failing. Jesus Christ who comes as the true high priest who intercedes for the holy people of world and restores worship among the nations. Jesus Christ the king of Judah who executes justice in the world and brings all the enemies of God into submission, including death.
In His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus begins the restoration of all things. And this restoration will continue in and through His holy people until all things are consummated in Him.
In our scene this morning, all heaven looks to Jesus Christ who is both Lamb of God and Lion of Judah simultaneously. He alone who is worthy to take the scroll, to execute the purposes of God, the bring judgment and restoration so that all will be made right. So that every human will one confess that Jesus is Lord and he has made all things right in Him.
We live in the midst of the unveiling of His kingdom. John encourages the seven churches and us not to grow weary, not to give up hope, not to lose sight of the kingdom, but to behold the world through the lens of heaven. We trust in Jesus Christ our Lord, our King, our High Priest, our Savior, our Healer, our Head to lead us and all creation into the fullness of His glory. We continue to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We know our hope is sure, rooted in His very resurrection. So we lift up our hearts unto the Lord. We worship Him and trust His faithful love. Even as we do, we pray. We lift up the suffering of persecuted Christians, the plight of the hungry, the lonely, the grieving, the broken. We lift up the churches and the saints and the community and the nations. We cry out to the Lord and entrust our personal pain and struggles to Him.
Even as we pray and grieve for a world in need, we celebrate in the risen One who walk among us and has not forgotten us. We gives thanks. In fact, we ourselves become a thanksgiving unto God in our prayers, our praise, our eating, our drinking. As we come before the throne offering all that we have and all that we are in worship, we are changed. As Alexander Schmemann has said,
When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being. He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be.
Thus in this grace of Christ Jesus,
we offer thanks and we receive His body and blood given for us. We celebrate
that we have been reconciled to God and now as a kingdom of priests we are sent
out with the call to reconcile our world to Christ.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 4:2–6.
 Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World (Kindle Locations 477-482). St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition.