A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 17, 2016
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.
Today’s lesson from the book of Revelation presents a vision of the Kingdom of God, gathered in heavenly worship: a great multitude, more than anybody could possibly count—from every nation, all languages—every different kind of person you can imagine. All of them waving palm branches in victory and shouting out praises: “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
The Lamb. That is, the one who was sacrificed for all, Jesus our Lord. The one who lived for us, the one who didn’t care whether he might suffer, or whether some might be angry that he paid more attention to those who were down or discouraged or needy… Jesus lived—for us. Calmly, courageously, attentively, with affection. That is the Lamb that is described in the book of Revelation and throughout the Gospel of Christianity.
Amen! They all said. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen. We praise God for his unending mercy and love. God is merciful to us—not because we deserve or have earned it, but because … God is all loving and all merciful beyond any expectation or reason. It is not who people consider the best, but whom God calls: “A great multitude that not one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…”
This passage refers to a “multitude,” but what does that mean? Is it all of humanity? Well, no. This multitude, these people, all have something in common. An elder describes this way: “These are they that have come out of the great ordeal.”
That’s interesting because we might have thought that those coming out of the great ordeal refers to the small group of Christians who might have been hurt by the Romans in first century Christianity. But this is a great multitude, and they have all, all been through the great ordeal. Without exception, those who come to know the joy of God have suffered…suffered the pain of loss, or of failure, or tragic things happening to loved ones. Or maybe the ordeal of being lost, not knowing whether you are loved by anyone, or of being cast out, disrespected and even despised.
The multitude around the heavenly throne, don’t wallow in the ordeal or in self-pity: “These are they who have come OUT of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Purified, washed and bleached and ironed because of the one who lived for us, full of selfless courage and compassion. We participate in the Lamb, living the life of selflessness and compassion, worshiping him night and day.
I once had the privilege of singing in a choir that performed Benjamin Britten’s cantata, “Rejoice in the Lamb.” The texts
were written by Christopher Smart, an English poet from the 1700s, who wrote them while he was locked in an insane asylum. The music and the poetry are filled and overflowing with the joy of the goodness of God. It catches the spirit of those multitudes praising God night and day, particularly it’s last movement: “Hallelujah, Hallelu… Hallelujah from the heart of God … from the hand of the artist inimitable and from the echo of the heavenly harp in sweetness magnifical and mighty. Hallelujah.” In singing it together with others, weaving many parts together, I felt lifted out of my own self-concern, for a moment, or a time of pure thankfulness.
They will hunger no more, and and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
God will wipe away every tear. The Lamb is our Shepherd. The Good Shepherd Jesus who we know—he will guide us out of every uncertainty and anxiety—indeed he will guide us out of any arrogance or hatred; wiping away the tears of sorrow and of suffering and leading us into the presence of God to join in the heavenly music of that multitude.
Let’s join and say together once again our psalm for today:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; and leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul; and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
You have anointed by head with oil, and my cup is running over.
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.