Apocalyptic worship

Sally Oakes's picture

Revelation 5:11-14:

• 5:11, 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,

• 5:12, 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!”

• 5:13, 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!”

• 5:14, And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

For churches who follow the liturgical year, this is the season of Easter. It may seem like Easter’s a month-ago memory, but the season of Easter begins on Easter Day. The season of Easter is a time to remember, as we always should, that “we are an Easter people.” Easter, of course, is about resurrection, and a time to discover anew the hope that this brings. The book of Revelation offers insight into what this resurrection hope means.

Of course Easter is about who God is; without the resurrection and God’s presence in the past, present, and future (who was and is and is to come), there wouldn’t be any such hope. In this passage, however, John’s vision gives us a glimpse about who we are — or, more specifically, who we are before God. We are worshipers.

This vision of worship is the fulfillment of Romans 8:18 – “The sufferings of the present time do not compare with the glory about to be revealed.” And it’s active. There is loud singing and people falling down in worship.

I think of all the ways to sing praises to God. Some churches have praise music, which I enjoy very much. The older folks in my church love “How Great Thou Art,” while the Amish love singing the “Lob Lied.” Years ago, King George II was so moved by Handel’s “Alleluia Chorus,” that he rose from his seat in worship. When I think of all these pieces of music sung together as God might hear them, I hear a beautiful cacophony of worship.

What John is witnessing is more than worship, though. He is witnessing more than a praise service, or a high-church mass, or an old fire and brimstone service. John’s vision reveals apocalyptic worship.

Apocalyptic worship is what I witnessed during a worship service during my residency at Grady Hospital. The housekeepers had a gospel choir and they sang at the service and were quite good. On their way back to their seats, however, one woman started unashamedly, unreservedly praising God in a loud voice. She praised God for delivering her from drugs and a life that had been going down the wrong road. She praised God for her children and her job. She praised God for, as she put it, “saving me when you didn’t have to!”

Those of us worshiping in the chapel were experiencing that with her and we were deeply moved; some were kneeling in prayer, a man behind me was praying in tongues, the woman beside me was lifting her hands, people were standing and clapping — everyone worshiping in his or her own way. This woman proclaimed the resurrected life that lives with profound hope. She proclaimed victory over the evil forces that would have overtaken her were it not for God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ.

Apocalyptic worship is that which not just proclaims the future coming of our Lord, but which lives it, breathes it — in and out on a daily basis. Shouts and songs and cries of praise are also outcries against a world in which we are still at war, a world in which a so-called Christian church pickets fallen Marines with vitriolic hate language. Cries of praise, “Worthy is the Lamb!” stands in direct opposition to pastors who tell abused women to be more submissive (and I’ve worked with them; I know it happens). Shouting, “Worthy is the Lamb” is an outcry, a battle cry on behalf of abused children, human trafficking, and places where there is so much governmental corruption that their citizens are dying. A murmur of, “worthy is the lamb” is a direct hit to cancer, alcoholism, depression, unemployment ... the list is as infinite and myriad as we are.

What if we Christians around the world would start to praise, “Worthy is the Lamb!” together?

Here’s what would happen — our differences would begin to fall by the wayside. Not that we’d become some homogenous of-one-mind people, but we would quit focusing on differences and start focusing on ... the Lamb! He’s what’s important, anyhow!

This is the vision of v. 13. Imagine Christians everywhere — Orthodox Greek, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal Holiness, Methodist, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Lutheran ... all praising, from everywhere — with even the fish in the sea. If even the rocks and stones could shout, ‘Hosannah!” Why can’t — why don’t — we?

Sally Oakes is pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church, 607 Rivers Road, Fayetteville, GA 30214. Phone: 770-964-6999 or 770-964-6992, or e-mail bethanymnc@bellsouth.net.