Anglican Bishop (recently deceased) Michael Perham said: “It sometimes seems that in the Church of England we find it easier to sustain the austere discipline of Lenten liturgy than we do to sustain for fifty days a period of joy and celebration that ought to thrill and excite. …
Eastertide is one long sustained season of praise. Easter Day begins a period of unparalleled joy and celebration in the Christian year which extends through fifty days until the day of Pentecost.” (Michael Perham writing in 2000). The Easter season is “one long sustained season of praise.” When reflecting on those words, my mind went to the great scenes in Revelation chapters four and five.
John is given a vision and sees the heavenly throne room and those around it and the sounds and words he hears within it. He receives his vision on the Lord’s Day – the main day of worship in the early church. These are wonderful and inspiring chapters, and worth reading aloud before attending our Sunday act of worship! John sees the creatures around the throne – who never cease from their doxology of praise.
In the first song, three aspects of God are focused upon. His holiness is praised in words like in Isaiah 6. The basic idea of holiness is that of difference, of being other, of being separate. God is different and that moves us to prayer, to adoration, to praise. As William Barclay wrote “The very mystery of God, the very difference of God, moves us to awed admiration in his presence, and to amazed love that that greatness should stoop so low for us men and women and for our salvation.”
The Cross where God stooped so low- as we contemplate, -as we take the bread and wine, – as we hear the sanctus, throws fuel on our fire of praise…. The creatures praise his omnipotence – the Lord, the Almighty.
When John wrote his words, the churches and believers in Asia Minor faced a real, clear, and present danger in the Roman Empire. There was threat which no one person and no nation had ever withstood. But think. These believers heard and recalled that the one behind them “stood no one less, and no one other than theAlmighty,” (Barclay, Revelation). The Almighty – that name declared the Christian will triumph, and that he / she is safe – not protected from trouble but spiritually safe in life and safe in death.And in a time of trouble, terrorism, political instability in Europe, Easter praise that the Almighty did what was needed to make us safe, and also our praise extends for we know in uncertainty, we pray like the psalmist “But I trust in you O LORD, I say ‘You are my God’. My times are in your hands.” (Psalm 31:14-15a). Eastertide we worship the victorious God and in the resurrection we have found and know the One we trust. Finally God is the one “who was, who is and who is to come”. Superpowers come and go, governments come and go, but God lasts forever. People continue to seek to obliterate the Christian faith across our world, (we need only remember the bombings of the Egyptian Coptic churches on Palm Sundays) – but no one can obliterate our everlasting God! They tried on Good Friday…
The twenty four elders cast their crowns before the Lord before another song of praise. And they say: “you are worthy our Lord and God to receive glory, honour and power, for you created all things and by your will they were created and have their being.” (NIV translation). God is Lord and God – kurios kai theos. The same words used for the title of Domitian the Roman Emperor – the Emperor at the time of John’s writing. He claimed to be Lord and God. The Christians would not acknowledge that claim. And our Easter praise declares that there is one King of Kings, one Lord of Lords, revealed through the cross and resurrection, declared in the cross and resurrection and proclaimed by the church. God is creator. The creator of new life – a new creation is born, through the events outside a city on a hill, in a garden, in a tomb.As we enjoy spring and summer beginning to knock at the door, Eastertide continues our praise for the creation and for the new creation.
Finally. Revelation 5. John is told that the Lion of Judah has triumphed. Each Sunday in Easter we proclaim that triumph – ‘Christ is Risen, he is risen indeed! Alleluia!’ And John sees ‘a lamb looking as if it was slain’.
The creatures and elders fall down and with the prayers of the saints on earth, they sing a song to the lamb celebrating what he has achieved – as if saying, yet again, it is worthy to praise and thank the Lord for all that happened on that hill and in that tomb. And the scene of worship expands with the second song – thousands upon thousands of angels, ten thousand times ten thousand, they encircle the throne, the creatures and the elders and they sing “Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth, and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” Then the praise expands further – every creature in heaven and earth and even under the earth – “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honour, glory and power, for ever and ever, the four living creatures said ‘Amen’ and the elders fell down and worshipped.”
We see the different kinds of worshippers, they worship in different ways, at different distances from the throne, even the bounds of heaven are broken, as worshippers include all in earth. “Worship is a radical equalizer that breaks down all boundaries in heaven and earth, except that between the worshipping community and the two objects of worship. …All – whatever their station and location in the universe – join together in obeisance and submission to the one seated upon the throne and to the slain Lamb.” (Leonard Thompson, The Book of Revelation).
The incredible scenes – from the character of God and praise for him as creator, to the Lamb and what has been achieved and how all in heaven and earth praise him for what has been done… I can understand what Bishop Perham points to – as we soak in Lent, and Holy Week and grasp a glimpse, a sliver of what God endured, suffered, achieved, then fifty days of praise not be hard from us regardless of our gender, education, race, age, Christian experience.As theologian and Bishop Tom Wright argues, John’s vision in Revelation 4 & 5 is not reflecting the worship and praise that is in the church. Rather, “that what he sees in heaven is what ought to be going on here in earth. Heaven is in charge; heaven gives the lead.” (Tom Wright, Revelation for Everyone)
Perhaps a verse from a hymn to close:
”Here might I stay and sing; no story so divine Never was love, dear King! never was grief like Thine This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend.“
Samuel Crossman (1624-84) Hymn: My Song is Love unknown.