This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
5Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 2and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ 3And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’
6 Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9They sing a new song:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.’
The sealed scroll represents the secret history which constitutes most of the book of The Revelation. It will counterpoint and undermine the “history of the victors”, the Imperial history which attributed triumph to Rome. No one other than the Lamb is worthy to open it because only the lamb has been slaughtered; only the lamb knows the truth about suffering and power. The image of the Lamb is of course first of all the Passover Lamb whose blood is shed for the liberation of the people from Egypt; it is also (probably) the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” from John’s gospel chapter 1. The lamb is Jesus. Those who are gathered by the Lamb’s death are a new sort of “kingdom”, priests serving God, rather than officials serving an emperor.
The courtiers of heaven, the elders representing the people of God and the creatures representing all creation, are in effect this new kingdom, and their worship of the Lamb shows their allegiance.
The thing to note is that although we are reading a discourse about heaven using very strange imagery it tells us about very earthly matters: it suggests here that true power resides with the powerless who belong to the Lamb who holds the future in his hand: that’s why he’s also called a lion.
10 Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ 11He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 13The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” 14With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”
16But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
Matthew tells us that Jesus’ parables can only be rightly understood by those who understand Jesus. You can’t see, for example, what Jesus is saying about the Sower unless you appreciate Jesus’ trust in the tiny first sowings of God’s kingdom. The parables are teasing stories which require the listener to trust God’s way which is not the way of the world. The counter-cultural nature of the gospel is most plainly summed up by Paul in 1stCorinthians (my translation):
“Now Jews demand miracles and Greeks seek wisdom, but we announce a crucified Messiah, offensive for Jews and daft for Gentiles, but for those whom God has called, Jews and Greeks alike, a Messiah who is God’s power and God’s wisdom.
The daftness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Look at your calling, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by worldly standards, not many powerful, not many well-born; but God favoured the daft people of the world to shame the wise, and the weak people of the world to shame the strong. The low-born and disreputable people of the world, yes, people who barely exist, God has favoured, to bring to nothing the powers that be, so that no flesh and blood might boast in God’s presence.
By God’s action, you are in Messiah Jesus, who has, through God, become our wisdom, justice, holiness and liberation; so as scripture says, Boaster, boast in the Lord!”
This is what the disciples are blessed to see and to hear. It’ s also in essence the content of the “scroll” in chapter 5 of The Revelation.