This is the text of a sermon for the first Sunday after Easter, in the parish where I’m placed this year. The Scripture text it references is Revelation 1:4-8.
Whom do you worship?
That might seem like a strange question. We’re here in church, on the first Sunday after Easter, full of the joy of the resurrection, refreshed in our Christian commitment… whom do I think you worship?
Perhaps it might surprise you if I tell you that I have been in church services where worship has been offered to a person’s ego; to intellectualism; to particular human causes, whether they be political or military or even scientific; or to power and its various abuses. Those things determined what was done, said, and expected more than any desire to honour God. Or perhaps, if you’ve been paying attention in your worshipping life, it won’t surprise you very much at all. But I’m new here, and still only beginning to listen to people’s stories and sensitivities, so I still need to ask; whom do you worship?
And that question is at the heart of the reading we heard this morning from Revelation. Now I know that Revelation is, for most people, a confusing jumble; a series of visions without a good plot line, mixed in with a vague idea that this is supposed to have something to do with the end of the world. And – if we’re honest – it often doesn’t make a lot of sense, and we tend not to read it very much by choice. But the Church reads it now, in Eastertide, while we are still celebrating what Christ has done, even though we may be acutely aware of how incomplete his work in us remains. And that’s no accident.
But I really need to start by saying that it is completely okay if you’ve never felt that Revelation made much sense. There is a very good reason for that; Revelation, unlike most of the Bible, is written in a genre which is pretty much a dead art form. But the key to making sense of it is in the name – “apocalyptic.” That’s a word which English has borrowed from Greek, and it literally means “unveiling,” or “uncovering.”
The idea behind this kind of writing is that the physical world around us – what we can see, hear, touch and so on – is not the whole truth about reality. A community like this one has something of a head start, perhaps, in being able to come to grips with this; and that’s because apocalyptic writing, in its use of symbols and images to convey deeper truth, is a lot like the language of liturgy. Just as, behind the symbol of shared bread, is the deeper truth of our belonging to one another in the church, just as behind the symbol of lit candles is the truth of the light that Christ brings into our lives, and so on – I could go on for ages – behind all of life, says apocalyptic writing, is deeper truth and deeper meaning.
And so I suspect that a community like this, familiar with reading meaning out of carefully constructed and elaborate liturgies, is already better equipped than some might be to make sense of the similar thought world of this kind of writing.
And if we are unveiling layers of meaning, that implies that things are not entirely as they might seem. So let’s take a few minutes to look at what John says is really going on behind the veil of the mundane.
“Look! He is coming.” That Jesus is coming is said here in the portion we read this morning and repeated over and over through the text of Revelation. Jesus is not enthroned in heaven in a way which is passive, removed from the world, or waiting for the time of the end before doing anything. He is moving now; he is coming. Jesus is pressing in on the world; he is challenging the powers which are at work keeping the world outside the reign of God; and that challenge creates great disruption. Our reality, our world, is shaped – we are shaped – through the Spirit’s impelling us human beings into action; nudging and prodding us, until we take up and carry out an agenda which God has authorised, and in which God is present. If you thought Easter was the end of a story, a point of joy and fulfilment, this text says think again; Christ is coming.
So this text lifts the veil on Christ’s power at work in the world, and in doing so it brings us to an edge, a brink; it shows us that the reign of God meets the world around us, and calls us forward to that edge, to commit to that reign of God. This commitment – which is not limited to what happens inside the boundaries of the church – these actions are our worship! Our participation in God’s saving activity is the way in which we acknowledge his rule, and is our worship. Not just our liturgical worship, but every aspect of our lives in which we rightly prioritise and value God. Here is the continuity between the identity we find in liturgy, and the identity we live out continuously through all the rest of our lives as well. Christ is coming, and that calls us to make decisions. Whom will we worship?
Then, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God.” I was fascinated to see, when we stripped the altar during Holy Week, that it is carved with an Alpha and Omega on its front panels. These words stand quite literally at the centre of our worshipping life. Christ is the beginning and the end. All of creation, all of time, all of existence is within his embrace. And in that, Christ is coming. He is near, and the end, the final fulfilment of creation, is also coming, is also near, is also breaking in to our reality. Our final fulfilment, our experience of being all we are created and meant to be, is coming, is near, is breaking into our reality.
We all have experience of brokenness and falleness and alienation. But set against that, this claim also gives us opportunity for incredible hope. Creation is reaching its end in Christ. We are becoming like him.
And so we gather again around this table, with its reminder that Christ is all in all. We come to meet him, even as he comes to meet us. And while we find here again encouragement, hope, strength to persevere and overcome, we find also a series of disturbing questions.
What determines what we do, or say, or expect of one another? What thrones do we have in our midst, other than that of God? Are we prepared, when we come to this table, to have all else called into radical question and even possibly judgement?
When all else falls into irrelevance and all the veils are lifted, whom do we worship?
The Lord be with you.