Earlier this month the lectionary assigned a reading from Revelation 5. The passage is an excerpt from John’s vision of a heavenly throne room. John sees the throne of God surrounded by twenty-four elders and four strange creatures. He sees a scroll, which no one can open. No one that is, until a lamb, one that had already been killed, steps forward and opens it. Then John sees the elders and the creatures all worship the lamb and the one on the throne.
It’s important to remember that just about everything in the book of Revelation is symbolic. This book isn’t meant to be read as a source for precise knowledge of the future or actual pictures of God or anything else. What the book is intended to do is to reorient us. John’s vision undercuts our assumptions about what matters most and what defines true power.
We need this kind of reorientation.
Revelation chapter 5 gives us a picture of worship. Everyone worships in some way. That is, we all ascribe worth to things and celebrate those things we deem most valuable. Most of our worship today is shaped by the consumerism of the market, a force that tracks us at almost every turn. Christian communities split over matters of worship because we think that worship is another service we purchase.
The snapshot of Revelation 5, however, shifts our thinking. Who is worthy to open the scroll? It isn’t a creature that obviously embodies power. It’s a lamb that has already given up its life. What is the object of worship in the passage? It isn’t any particular cultural product. It’s God, worshiped by all creatures. People of “every tribe and language and people and nation” join the four representative creatures in celebrating the goodness of God. Celebrating the unmatched goodness of something we cannot capture changes our perspective. That level of reorientation has significant and wide-reaching consequences.