Church of England Diocese of St.Albans St. Peter Bushey Heath

Second Sunday after Epiphany

And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? (Revelation 5: 2)

In sharing the vision of St. John the Divine we are allowed to witness the most critical moment in the history of mankind. As the angel asks the crucial question we are able to witness the culmination of millennia of searching for truth and struggling towards holiness. The subsidiary question – the unspoken question on the visionary’s lips – is simple and yet profound: ‘will it all have been worthwhile?’

This is the moment of judgement and, like all such lesser times of decision and change throughout life, it is immensely stressful: St. John breaks down in tears. Inevitably he fears the judgement. What will be found inside the scroll? What will it say? But matters are far worse because the angel’s question initiates the ultimate crisis: the greatest that mankind has ever faced. On the cusp of the moment of decision, there is nobody found who can open the scroll – or even look inside it. Nobody. Nobody who has ever lived: great or small, young or old, wise or foolish. It seems that the opportunity is lost, gone forever. Mankind will not be saved. Adam and his children are doomed. St. John breaks down: the fear and the stress are too much.

The opening of the scroll will begin the process of salvation for which mankind has been waiting. The continued existence of mankind and the destiny of its individual members is at stake. God’s purposes will not only be disclosed when the scroll is opened: they will also be accomplished. When God speaks things happen. As the angel waits for an answer to his question there is a hiatus – a moment of terrible anxiety during which it seems that all that has gone before has been pointless: so many lives wasted, so many hopes dashed. All those years groaning under the weight of sin, struggling with the burden of the Law, hoping in the message of the prophets, all brought to naught. None can open the scroll.

Comfort and truth come to St. John and to the whole of mankind from the elder who declares:

Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. (Revelation 5: 5)

How often is it that comfort comes from a revelation of the truth and an acceptance of its reality? In a world of lies and deceit St. John is about to discover how things actually are and will be. Only the Lamb has the authority to open the scroll and to initiate the events that will lead to salvation and the completion of the Book of Life.

The Lamb is an integral part of God’s purposes. This cannot be overstated. He is of the Root of David, the Lion of the tribe of Judah: clearly he is the Messiah bringing to completion the work of the prophets; all the hopes and expectations of the Old Testament. The Lamb also stands in the midst of the throne encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. In other words he is at the centre of divine power. The seven horns and seven eyes represent the omnipotence and omniscience of God. The Lamb who was slain is an essential part of the Godhead and he is bringing hope and salvation.

At the start of this part of the vision we had found ourselves sharing with the Seer in unbearable tension. Once the Lamb is introduced the context changes from one of fearful anticipation to one of fruitful prayer and joyous worship. We discover that the prayers of the saints have been heard – all faithful prayer is directed toward this moment. We also hear a new song – the song of the new covenant – which G.B. Caird described as ‘a paean of exultation at the approaching world-wide victory of God’. The song begins, ‘Thou art worthy’ just as the hymn to the Creator had done previously (Revelation 4: 11). The Lamb is worthy of the same worship as he too is God.

St. John’s vision may be a rarefied experience and one which is in many parts obscure and difficult to understand, but it makes the point (amongst others) that our lives of prayer and worship are anticipatory because they are not just a part of human activity, but an essential aspect of God’s plan. In fact, not only are they anticipatory, they are participatory. Through prayer and worship our lives become enmeshed with the activities of heaven. This is the message that St. John and other purveyors of apocalyptic literature would have us understand. By recognising that we are participators in heavenly things we are granted the strength to continue even in times of trial and to discover, at least in part, the joys that await us once all the scrolls have been opened and our salvation is complete.

Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. (Revelation 5: 5)

Father Andrew Burton SSC

17th January 2021

Image by Andrea Don on Pixabay