Revelation 5 continues the awesome image, first begun in chapter 4, of mysterious beings, elders, living creatures, thousands upon thousands of angels. The poetry of the images evokes wonder or, at least, that is its design. It is overwhelming (and strange) crafted to express and reflect the wonderfully-beyond-our-wildest-imagination being of God. It’s a masterful sublimation of traditional messianic imagery. Today’s selection moves from passive observation to active participation, seeking to draw us from dumbstruck silence into singing participation. Revelation was Emily Dickinson’s favorite book of the Bible. She said so because it takes a stand in favor of singing. In fact, it proclaims that when all is said and done, of the considerable noises human beings are capable of, it is singing that will endure. A new song — if you can imagine — and light will be what remains. It’s quite a cause for hope. (Kathleen Norris, Introduction to Revelation). The book’s frequent use of hymns, doxologies, hallelujahs, amens and descriptions of heavenly liturgies serves “not for the sake of persuading the reader to participate in the daily or weekly liturgy,” but rather “for the sake of moving the audience to political resistance . . . If the author would write today, he might say: ‘Don’t salute the flag, salute God’; or ‘Don’t pledge allegiance to the state, pledge it to God’.” (Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World)
Remember that this vision is recorded and sent to those who face political persecution, social rejection and spiritual accommodation. Will they acquiesce to the requirement of the Emperor Cult, recognizing the Emperor as Lord and Savior in public events and settings? [LINK to Biblical Journal] How will they affirm their Roman political unity while standing for their diverging faith convictions? While Roman power was based on military victory and force, the power of the Kingdom of Jesus is modeled after justice. It’s not revenge or vengeance, but the justice of the lamb of God. That’s the title most used for Jesus in the book. The lamb as the sacrificial animal in the Temple and at Passover, Jesus as Lord and Savior who is the ultimate victim of group-think, mob-mentality, and the rejection of belief in that God can act out-of-the-box. The lamb is also a lion: victor, powerful, unvanquishable. A power based not on self-preservation or annihilation of the other, but on self-giving love that includes, transforms: makes all thing new. This is the one who (going forward in the remainder of the book) will open the scrolls and seals, unleashing the world-transforming justice of God. What image of Jesus do folks images when they are uncomfortable at the mention of the name of the Jesus? What image do we convey when we talk of Jesus? Is it more that of Cesar; the Lamb-Lion-King, or something else?
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
- This word is written to followers of Jesus in tribulation, hardship and faced with hard choices around faith. How is it encouraging for those in a trying time?
- Jesus – the Messiah – is identified with two principal images: the mighty lion and the meek lamb. How are you most experiencing God in Jesus these days? As a roaring force of justice?; as a centering presence of compassion? How do you hunger for the divine presence today?
- The rest of the book of Revelation contains images of violence, all flowing from the hand of the lamb of God. How does this image of a self-sacrificing God reshape your expectations of Revelation?; or God’s action in you?; in our world?