Worthy Is the Lamb! -- Lectionary (RCL) Reflection for Easter 3C (Revelation 5)

Revelation 5:11-14 New Revised Standard Version

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 honor 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 honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”

14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.


                One of the most powerful choruses in Handel’s Messiah draws from this passage. Yes, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain . . . to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” With this word from John of Patmos along with Handel’s interpretation of that word, we continue our Eastertide journey through small portions of the Book of Revelation.

                I would venture a guess that the Book of Revelation is probably not a favorite place to go for sermons by the average Mainline Protestant and probably Roman Catholic preacher. If you’re a bit skittish, you’re not alone. Neither Augustine nor Calvin were big fans of Revelation either. Besides, to go there might open up a can of worms we’d rather avoid. While that might be true, Year C of Eastertide is, with a couple of exceptions, the one time in which our attention is directed toward Revelation. So, if you are interested in stepping into the waters of life, here is the opportunity.   

                Here in the fifth chapter of Revelation, we pick up our second of seven Eastertide readings from Revelation. In this passage, we receive an invitation to gather before the throne of God and join in the heavenly worship. In this offering, God’s throne is surrounded by angels, elders, and living creatures. They number in the thousands. Yes, myriads and myriads of angels surround the throne. There are too many here to count.  John sees this and reports about it to us.

                As we hear these words, can we not envision our experiences of worship being an extension of this event pictured by John? When we gather for worship, do we not join with the angelic chorus along with all the saints of God to give praise to God our savior?  

                It is in this context of worship, that we are invited to give praise and thanksgiving to the Lamb of God. Yes, worthy is the lamb that was slain. For John, Jesus takes on the role of the lamb that is slaughtered. It is a sacrificial image that has roots in the Temple liturgy. Therefore, all honor and glory are due to him. We needn’t read this in terms of penal substitution or satisfaction atonement theology. To step back to earlier in the chapter, John envisions the Lion of Judah becoming the slaughtered Lamb. In other words, the way in which freedom is brought to the people of God is through the martyred one. While we needn’t bring atonement theory into this moment, it is clear that John has the cross in mind. It is through the cross that power is attained. Therefore, the Lamb is worthy of our praise. Yes, the Lamb is worthy of receiving power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. That is, seven things Jesus the Lamb is worthy of receiving. Ron Allen suggests that “the Lamb is worthy because the Lamb uses these things in the service of the movement towards the new heaven and new earth” [Allen, I Will Tell You the Mystery, p. 64]. While Caesar accumulates all these things for his own benefit,  such is not the case with Jesus who uses them to bless others by bringing into existence the new heavens and new earth. That is, while Caesar uses these things to maintain control over society, the Lamb uses them to bless the community.

                When we read these words, it is good to keep in mind the context. When John wrote these words power was held by Caesar and Caesar alone. To participate in society meant giving allegiance to Caesar. But it was Caesar (Rome) under whom the Lamb that is worthy was slain! So, this is a rather political declaration, and it should remind us that whatever our national origin or political affiliation, these are secondary to our primary allegiance to the Lamb of God who is worthy to be given glory and honor and praise. Note once again that it is not a lion who stands before us it is a slaughtered Lamb, so what does that say about power? Could this image of the slaughtered Lamb holding power, serve as a sign of active nonviolent resistance to Caesar’s power? Thus, as Greg Stevenson notes, the slaughtered Lamb “is an image testifying that Christian victory is not found in worldly power structures or in economic security. Christian victory is found in embodying the pattern of the Christ. God's plan for his creation involves a slaughtered Lamb. And all who would follow this Lamb must achieve victory not through violent resistance or face, not through compromise with the enemy, but through faithful witness, knowing that such witness has the appearance of weakness within the kingdom of the world” [Stevenson, A Slaughtered Lamb, p. 135].

                The story begins in heaven with the myriads of angels surrounding the throne of God giving praise to the Lamb, but they’re not alone. They are accompanied by every creature in heaven and on earth. Not only that but every creature under the earth and in the sea. Here is where we need to set our imaginations free. John doesn’t just have humans in mind here, but the entire creation. Yes, the whale song and the bird song offer praise to and thanksgiving to the Lamb along with the one seated on the throne.

                As all this singing and praising goes on the four living creatures and the elders fall before the throne and before the Lamb and shout Amen. Yes, Amen to this word of praise we hear at this moment. The imagery here of the four creatures and elders falling before God in worship reflects how ancient peoples approached their rulers. They would prostrate themselves before the ruler (God) as a sign of respect and submission. Yes, in doing this the four living creatures and the elders commit themselves completely to the work of God.

                So the question is, what about us? To whom do we give honor and glory?  Are we still ready to join with the angels and give praise to God and sing “worthy is the Lamb” to the one who was crucified and yet now lives? For it is the Lamb who reigns over the earth. Caesar might not yet be ready to give in, but the risen Christ reigns. So, we can join the Elders and the living creatures and fall before the Lamb, acknowledging the Lamb’s authority.       


 Eyck, Jan van, 1390-1440. Adoration of the Lamb detail, Ghent Altarpiece, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=58707 [retrieved April 23, 2022]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ghent_Altarpiece_D_-_Adoration_of_the_Lamb_2.jpg.


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