4 Easter Year C / May 8, 2022 / St. Paul’s Random Lake
Revelation 7:1-4, 9-7
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on earth or sea or against any tree. 2 I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea, 3 saying, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.”
4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel.
9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb!”
11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 For this reason they are before the throne of God and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat, 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The Lamb is our Shepherd
Let us pray. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us. We marvel that you, our sacrificial lamb are also the good and gentle shepherd who will lead and guide us through the trials of this life into your heavenly kingdom where we will be a part of your great and innumerable flock. AMEN.
Traditionally. the 4th Sunday after Easter has been known as “Shepherd Sunday” and the assigned bible texts reflect that theme. As I was reading over the readings to prepare for this sermon, the one that stood out this time was the Revelation passage. Maybe because it gave a new twist to a very familiar idea that “the Lord is my shepherd.”
The book of Revelation offers a heavenly view of the great white-robed flock gathered to worship the lamb who will be their eternal shepherd. In a sense, the Scripture give us a glimpse of where the journey beside still waters, in paths of righteousness, through the valley of the shadow of death finally leads with the Good Shepherd’s guidance. They offer a vision of what it might mean to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
While Revelation is usually seen as a doom and gloom book about the end of the world, today’s passage shows believers it is a book of hope too. In fact, today’s lesson is an anchor of hope smack dab in the middle of some very frightening visions. God has a scroll with seven seals on it that only the Lamb is worthy to open. Today’s lesson comes after the Lamb has broken six of the seven seals unleashing plagues and disasters on the earth. Overwhelmed by the effects of the sixth seal–an earthquake, a blackened sun, a bloody moon, stars dropping from the sky and the sky rolling up like a scroll–the people cry out, “The day of wrath has come! Who can stand?”
Today’s vision came in response to that question, “Who can stand?” Who could possibly survive this terrible disaster that will mark the end of the world as we know it? And the answer according to the book of Revelation is: “the sheep of the Good Shepherd, the great white-robed flock!” That doesn’t mean that believers will not encounter hardship, but that we will be able to come through our difficulties with God’s help and protection. Such visions were written down to give hope to the faithful ones who were suffering for their faith that there was a future behind what they were forced to endure. In the days of the Roman Empire when Revelation was written down there were many who feared for their very lives because their faith in God led them to refuse to worship the Emperor as other Roman subjects did.
Let’s look more closely at these visions and the hope they offer us as the Good Shepherd’s flock. We find an interlude of peace and tranquility in the middle of chaos unleashed. Four angels hold back the forces of nature so that nothing is damaged until the servants of God have been marked with a seal on their foreheads. What is that seal and how do we know we have been marked? I believe that this seal is the mark of the cross we receive at our baptism into Christ. That is the mark that sets us a part as servants of God. The seal is the sign that our shepherd will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death when the time comes.
Those who are sealed will be gathered in God’s kingdom, a countless multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language. This white-robed throng is God’s great flock–all of the sheep of the good shepherd. The white robes symbolize purity. Though our sins be like crimson, in the blood of Christ, we shall be made white as snow. Cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Without Jesus, no one is truly pure unless their robes are washed clean in the blood of Christ. This once for all washing took place at your baptism when your sins were washed away.
The palm branches they are waving are a symbol of victory. These palms serve as a reminder: even in the horrible ordeal that is to come, remember that the victory belongs to God and to the Lamb! This whole countless host falls on their knees and worships God in the familiar hymn of praise: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!”
This host is identified as they who have come through the great ordeal. What is the great ordeal? Maybe it’s the terrible disaster expected to fall upon the world as it comes to an end. Following this chapter the book of Revelation enters more visions of doom and gloom, plagues and woes. Is this what we must survive? It’s a frightening thought, to be sure. But for a believer to dwell on the horrors of Revelation is to miss the point. These visions are a witness. Those who have come through the ordeal are able to sing songs of joy and praise on the other side of disaster! The shepherd has brought them through the valley of the shadow of death!
No the shadow was not taken away, the sheep came through the journey, not saved from it. We are not promised no suffering, but instead given the strength to endure as we anticipate our final reunion in God’s kingdom.
The writer of Revelation was writing specifically to readers who were being persecuted and even faced torture and death because of their faith in Christ. Yet, even if our problems aren’t literally as earthshattering as the vision in the book of Revelation, this passage still offers hope to all believers who come through ordeals and struggles and ask “who can stand it?” Whatever crisis you face, even the valley of the shadow of death. No victory over hardship is ever our own, but only from God. That doesn’t mean God removes all our pain and suffering, but keeps it from overwhelming and destroying us, so that God is able to lead us through the experiences transformed.
Ironically, our only hope lies in the sacrificial Lamb who himself suffered abandonment and death. It doesn’t make sense that the Lamb would suddenly become the Shepherd, but somehow by Christ’s death and resurrection God has turned everything upside down. In this one act of humility, servanthood and love, all the rules are changed. The powers of evil, darkness and death that once seemed unbeatable now crumble under the power of God’s love. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep and by so doing makes himself a sacrificial lamb, but the vision in Revelation assures the flock that the time will come when the Lamb will take his rightful place as shepherd again.
Then God promises a new vision of the future where there will be no suffering and pain, hunger and thirst, tears and grief. When the Lamb is our shepherd, everything will change as God has promised the great flock who are marked with the seal of God and whose robes are washed clean by the blood of the lamb:
15 For this reason they are before the throne of God and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat,
17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Beloved sheep of the shepherd’s flock, take comfort in the Good Shepherd’s words: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” In this life and the next, the good shepherd holds you in his hand. The lamb who was slain has begun his reign. Alleluia! AMEN.