A Homily for Trinity Sunday
May 27, 2018
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Revelation 4
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This Sunday marks Trinity Sunday, the end of our flurry of Christian Holy-days, and the beginning of the long expectant wait that is the life of the church. We have traveled from last Advent when we cried out for the coming of Christ, through Christ’s birth on Christmas, the Epiphany to the gentiles, through Lent’s penitence to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, the ascension, the promised giving on the Holy Spirit last week on Pentecost, and now, finally, we celebrate the Trinity, we celebrate the fullness of God.
Of course we celebrate the Trinity every Sunday, but I think, like remembering the birth, the crucifixion, remembering the resurrection, and the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church, all of which are so indispensable to the life of the church we set aside a day to remind us of the fact, the Trinitarian nature of God is so indispensable to the Christian faith that likewise, we take a day and recall this fact.
So on Trinity Sunday we celebrate we read the Athanasius Creed, and we are reminded of the beautiful nature of God, that he is three, and yet is one. All of this brings us to the pro-epistle, that is the lesson for the epistle from Revelation chapter 4.
I think we are often daunted by the Book of Revelation because it contains some wild imagery, and we don’t know what to do with it. This tempts us to either look to those who would over explain it, or we simply ignore it. Neither of these are particularly helpful or new approaches to the book. In the existent early copies of the New Testament text, we have the fewest of Revelation.
If we are to tackle this book, we need to have a little context. First and foremost, it is one revelation to St. John, not several. Too often we hear that it is the book of revelations. While you can split it into two or three sections, there is nothing to suggest that there were more than one revelation rather it is one vision that moves from the letters to the churches, to a heavenly vision of that which is to come, and finally a vision for the future hope, a future restoration.
The second apocalyptic section runs from Chapter 4 to either 20 or the end of the book depending on how you want to break it down but this lengthy middle section largely contains apocalyptic language. This language is often contains over the top descriptions of what is to come with vivid descriptions that are not meant to be read literally but metaphorically so that the reader could grasp the magnitude of future events. Our passage this morning provides some examples of that – we are not to understand that God is a shiny green rainbow, or that there will only be 24 people worshipping him, or even than the heavenly throne roome has a crystal floor. Instead we are to see the overarching narrative, we see the metanarrative of scripture loudly proclaimed.
What is this narrative that we see not only here, but throughout all of scripture? Is it the sinfulness of man? The salvation of man? No, these are certainly there, but it doesn’t seem to be the overarching narrative. What about the love of God? Or the goodness of God? Again, those are there, but we also see God’s justice, his righteousness, his judgement proclaimed. So, again, all important, but not the overarching narrative. What then is the metanarrative of scripture?
It is the glory of God. Each of these other smaller narratives point to His glory again, and again, and again and this morning we read it loudly proclaimed.
Now, before we start at the first verse, I hope some of you were able to take a quick look at Chapters 1-3. If not, it is not the end of the world. However, we need to recall that it was Christ that is talking to and guiding St. John in these first three chapters, it is Christ encouraging and admonishing his church on earth. Now we come to this shift in chapter 4 where we read “after this (the letters) I (St. John) looked and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be here-after. And immediately I was in the spirit: and behold a throne was set in heaven.”
It is here that we see the Trinity revealed. There is debate as to whether the voice St. John hears is that of Christ’s beckoning him into heaven or that of an Angel. I think we can get lost in such detail. It is possible that it is Christ’s but literarily it doesn’t make as much sense as an Angel. However, what I want you to see is that in the context of the first three chapters the Trinity is revealed. For Christ was revealed, and now the spirit has brought the saint up into heaven before the throne of God the father. We see a taste of the nature of God, Christ the redeemer of the church, the spirit the sanctifier, and God the father, the sovereign ruler of our hearts and minds and the whole world.
I stopped short of the description of the one that sits on the throne because we want to take some time to talk about it because we can find the language that we read to be overwhelming – “he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” This is God that he describes. Should we imagine that he looks like these rare Jewels? No, I think that would miss the point. First, this language ties St. John’s vision to the vision of the prophet Ezekiel who sees God very similarly. What we are seeing here – is the glory of the Lord. It may be that when we experience the Lord that we will see him in the same manner, but what is more likely, that when our souls are finally sanctified, we will fall down in worship, we will be so overwhelmed by the glory. The language of rare gems is used because we want to see how glorious the Lord is. We understand that His glory is richer than we could possibly imagine. Think about for a moment, God’s glory is so immense, that it can only be summarized in rich metaphor.
Now we see around the throne are twenty four elders, there are points throughout that it is not entirely clear what St. John is seeing – this is one such point. However, I, with many others, think what he is seeing is representatives of the 12 Tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles. What is represented is more important – if they do in fact represent the tribes and the apostles then what the saint is seeing is representatives of all faithful people, throughout all time, coming before the throne of God to worship him.
Now, you may be thinking – what about the 144,000 or the myriad of people that we see later on in Revelation? The way apocalyptic literature works is in a recursive manner. That is to say it speaks in loops, becoming larger on each pass through. So, the vision repeats, growing grander each time. It would make sense that we would start with 24 to represent the myriad, then 144,000, again, playing on the entirety of the faithful singing praises to God, and then finally, the myriad of all the faithful, throughout all time, uncountable to the eye. Yet, we start here with a more graspable vision – understanding the boldness of all coming before God.
Now we come to a tougher vision – the thunder and lighting and voices and lamps. The Thunder and lightning reminds us immediately of Moses on the mountain top receiving the commandments, how there too was thunder and lightning. How, mightily the glory of the Lord was seen. Here we have this same reminder of his power and glory.
The seven lamps which are the seven spirits of God is more confusing at least to me. However, throughout revelation the number seven seems to do with perfection and some have suggested this refers to the sevenfold ministry of the Holy Spirit which are perhaps: 1) insight (prophecy); 2) helpfulness (service or ministry); 3) instruction (teaching); 4) encouragement; 5) generosity (giving); 6) guidance (leadership); and 7) compassion. If I am less clear here, it is because most people are less clear. Suffice to say – we see the spirit of God at work around him.
And now around the throne is the sea of glass like unto crystal. Like all of this imagery there is much debate what is going on here. The one point that resonates over and over again with me requires that we step back and understand the Hebrew and ancient Near Eastern understanding of the sea. It would have been understood that it was out of the sea that came chaos. So, in Daniel when the beast rises out of the sea, the beast is a spawn of chaos, or when Christ walks on the water or when he calms the storm – chaos is subdued to Christ. So here – we have a sea that is perfectly calm, perfectly clear – I think we need to see that chaos is subdued to the sovereignty of God. We need to see that at the end chaos is no more.
Now around the throne we see four crazy sounding creatures full of eyes, with wild faces. These again are reminiscent of the description of Angels in the Old Testament apocalyptic and prophetic literature. I think we can safely say that they are angels, they are the angels that serve God at his throne in heaven. However, as we read their descriptions we might notice something interesting, one has the face of a lion, another a calf, the third a man, and the final a beast. We see a wild creature, a domestic creature, a man, and a bird. While, I think we want to understand these to be angels, there could be a second meaning we want to grasp here. Many have purposed, and I think them to be wise – that these creatures also represent all of creation, that all animals, men, and birds will at the end of time bow down to worship God and this is what happens isn’t it?
Then they break into song – crying “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”
We see in the angel’s song the root of the Sanctus – our song of praise in the middle of the communion service – our song of singing Holy, Holy, Holy! To the Lord God almighty. When we see this, we are reminded that as we lift our voices up in praise that we are not an isolated community, we are not simply individuals singing a song, but we are a body, joining together with other bodies, throughout the world, throughout all time, throughout the earth and in heaven to sing the rightful praises to the Lord. The Sanctus, though some liberties have been taken, is not merely a hymn we sing from time to time, it is the eternal hymn that we are invited to join in with the heavenly witnesses. What a grand thing we have been invited to participate in!
The final verse shows us the end of our Sanctus, shows us the root of that which we sing. The elder’s sing: “thou art worthy, O Lord to receive glory, and honor and power: for thou hast created all things and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” When we come to the Lord’s table to break the bread and drink the wine of the body and blood of Christ, when we come to the table we, likewise sing, not alone, but with the whole church, throughout eternity.
Now, the elders do an interesting thing – remember they had on their head crowns, they cast those crowns down and fall on their face in worship. We are reminded that even the greatest among us will bend a knee before the Lord on the last day. We are reminded that all are underneath the sovereignty of our Lord. We are reminded that whether we do great things for the kingdom or little things – that the crowns of glory that come from these good works belong to the Lord and we cast them down at his feet and bend our knees in worship. For this alone gives all we do meaning. All we do, we do to the glory of the Lord.
The final statement out of the elder’s mouth is of interest, and will lead us into our final section of the sermon this morning - They say – “for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are created and were created.” The world is fearfully and wonderfully made and we are reminded again – it isn’t some arbitrary creation filled with chaos and randomness, it isn’t here by chance, no the Lord has created all things and not only that it was created for his pleasure and for his glory. The end of our creation is to glorify and enjoy God forever.
So we have seen the might and glory of the Lord spelled out, we have seen how all will come to worship him. We have seen this peculiar passage, I hope, demystified a little bit, without losing its mythology and now we are reminded that at the center of what the church does should be the glory of the Lord and at the center of what we do is the glory of the Lord.
Certainly, the church does many good things – fights for the oppressed, does good works of mercy, seeks to love the unlovable, and creates invaluable community. We could list out all the good works that the church is called to do, and that we as individuals are called to do, but if we miss this one point – if we miss our calling to glorify the Lord in all of this, then we miss the fundamental nature of creation. The church is called to glorify the Lord, we are called to glorify the Lord.
Injustice – sin – depravity all flow out of a wrong ordering of our affections. As we are reminded of the Trinitarian nature of God, as we are reminded of his immense glory – we are reminded that we are called to be individuals, and a people whose affection is set on the glory of the Lord.
So, we are called back again, and again to this. We are inspired as we read scripture to fall on our knees and sing Holy, Holy, Holy. As we come to the Lord’s table this Sunday, let us not forget this calling. As we join together in the Sanctus let us remember that we join with so great a cloud of witnesses on our knees before the Lord, casting down our crowns at the foot of his throne and remembering His great glory. As we leave this place and go into the world, let us remember that his glory supersedes all that we will experience, his sovereignty reigns over even the most chaotic and evil forces of the world. Therefore, let our hearts and minds be united with the whole Christian body in seeking to glorify God in all we do.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.