The Spiritual Practice of Celebration - Revelation 5:1-14
One of my favourite places to be as a teenager was the “mosh pit.” For the uninitiated, the “mosh pit” is basically the dense crowd at the very front of a concert where people dance and jump up and down like maniacs. There’s lots of elbows and sweat and standing on each other’s feet. I remember coming out of the mosh pit after a long and loud concert absolutely exhilarated.
Going to concerts is one of my favourite things. Now I tend to book a seat because I like to avoid the sweat and the elbows.
Going to a concert to see a band live is very different from listening to a CD or streaming the album.
There is something about the shared experience, of being with lots of people who are there to have a great time. There is a “feeling” about being at a concert or a show or a sports game with a big crowd that is hard to describe. It’s one of those “you have to be there” moments. Have you ever been caught up in one of those moments?
There is something special about the communal nature of these events. That’s why people pay money to get tickets to go to these things with lots of other people.
I’ve tried recreating the concert “mosh pit” in my bedroom with the stereo cranked up to full volume but it just doesn’t quite have the same effect.
I feel a bit mad jumping up and down in my room and without the danger of flying elbows and the joy of others who love the music just as much as me it just doesn’t quite cut it.
It seems there is something important about the crowd, about the community that gathers.
Today we are wrapping up our series on “spiritual practices” for Lent.
Over the last six weeks we have looked at different practices that draw us into a deeper relationship with Jesus and with each other. We have explored the practices of hearing and responding to the Bible, generosity, hospitality, celebrating the Sabbath, and today we finish our series by looking at the practice of “celebration.”
The practice of celebration is the practice of communal worship – of being together to sing and pray and hear the Bible read. It is the shared experience of worshipping God together. We’re finishing with this practice to emphasize the being a Christian isn’t a solo activity, it isn’t just about me and Jesus, but it is something we do together in community.
I recently had a conversation with a woman who said to me: “I don’t usually go to Church” I said: “That’s ok, why don’t you usually go?”
She said: “I just don’t think it is necessary. You can be a Christian without going to church.”
I paused for a moment and I said: “Yes ok, but it’s a lot harder to be one and why would you want to make it more difficult?”
She hasn’t come back but I stand by my words. And I think there is even more to it than just practicality. The solo Christian carving their own path without community is prone to all kinds of trouble and the idea is simply not biblical.
I don’t think that this woman is alone in her view. I’ve talked to loads of people who share the sentiment of lone ranger Christianity.
You’re all here today so maybe I’m preaching to the choir, but today I’d like to explore just why the communal practice of celebration, of shared worship together is so important. I also want to explore the joy of it so that we can gain a renewed vision of our worship together.
GOD CALLS A PEOPLE TOGETHER
Today we heard chapter 5 of the book of Revelation read to us. It is a stunning picture of heavenly worship. This picture of heavenly worship portrays beautifully what our worship is all about, so we are going to look closely at it – but first some context on the book.
The book of Revelation is a perplexing but beautiful book of the Bible. It was penned by John when he received a vision from God. In this vision there are all kinds of pictures and images. The major theme in all of it is the victory of God over the powers of evil. The book of revelation paints a picture of Jesus upon the throne and the vanquishing of all that stands against his kingdom.
Revelation was written to churches struggling to be faithful to Jesus in a world in which it was really hard to be a worshipper of Jesus. Many of the churches were persecuted for their faith and this book in many ways is an encouragement to stand strong in their faith and to remind them that in the long run all will be well.
Here in chapter 5 we see a vision, and it has been described by some commentators as the central vision of the book of Revelation.
Chapters 4 and 5 describe the worship of God in heaven. John paints a picture of the heavenly throne room. At the centre of it all is a lamb upon the throne. This lamb represents Jesus.
This imagery is weird to us as New Zealanders. Our only context for lambs is farming and Christmas dinners. But there is rich Biblical imagery to this vision of a lamb. It refers to the Passover lamb in the story of Exodus. The lamb that we see in Revelation is the lamb who was slain. This image is of the sacrificial death of Jesus.
Here in this heavenly vision we glimpse the beauty of the Easter story. Jesus rules and reigns not by power and might as we might think of it. On Palm Sunday we remember the story of Jesus riding in to Jerusalem as a King. But he came to Jerusalem not to destroy his enemies with a sword but rather to die a sacrificial death for all of humanity.
Revelation 5 points us to this beautiful truth that is the beginning of all Christian worship. Jesus, is the lamb upon the throne. He died so that we might live. He, the sinless one took upon himself the consequences of our sin in his suffering and death.
As the Apostle Paul puts it in the letter to the Ephesians:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
This is the objective reality of the Gospel as its presented to us – this is what God has done in Jesus. Because of his great love for us, God has rescued us from sin and death through the cross.
But being a Christian isn’t just knowing this.
It’s experiencing it. It’s responding to it and being shaped and formed by this reality as we worship.
In the passage in revelation there is a response to the lamb upon the throne.
"Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 singing with full voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped."
This is an amazing picture of worship. Myriads of angels and elders worshipping Jesus. Then in verse 13 we hear that every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them singing. This list is a Jewish way of saying “all things!”
They are all around the throne worshipping Jesus. Talk about a crowd!
To worship is to fix our eyes on this heavenly reality – Jesus is King. He is the lamb upon the throne who has secured our salvation as part of God’s plan of love from the foundation of the world.
In the midst of everyday life, we lose this right?
When we are busy at work or when we have sick kids at home or are caught up in the mundane reality of paying our bills we can lose touch with this foundational Christian reality.
Yes, God is present in the everyday. Of course. We can pray wherever we are. In daily life we encounter God in our work, our conversations, our reading.
But its easy so easy to drift from this central vision of Jesus when we are all on our own.
When we come intentionally together to celebrate and to communally worship we are all drawn together with Jesus at the centre. We mirror this heavenly reality of worship around the throne. More than that, we join in with it!
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE WORSHIP TOGETHER IS THAT WE ARE AWAKENED TO REALITY.
When we worship we align our hearts and minds, we align our whole lives with the reality that Jesus is Lord.
The vision of heavenly worship in Revelation is not of individual Christians who read books they agree with and pray how they like on their own, it is the image of a vibrant community of faith that draw each other to focus on Jesus at the centre.
Martin Luther, that fiery reformer put it well, saying:
“At home in my own house there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart, and it breaks its way through.”
Have you experienced this?
I know at times I have come to church not feeling like it. I may have been encouraged by a friend, “Come on Josh, let’s go together.” Since I’ve been a Vicar the discipline has been easier, but there are days where I’m feeling flat too and need the encouragement of other Christians to help me see the beauty of Jesus and what he has done for me.
Communal worship and celebration is important because we are creatures made for worship. We all worship something.
Worship is natural, the question is not if but what or who.
And when it comes to it we are far less rational than we think.
Most of our decisions, whether they be daily, weekly or annually are formed by habit.
And that is why we have focused on practices for this series during Lent. We could have named this series “Spiritual habits for Lent.”
So, let me finish with this challenging and very grounded quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt:
“You may worship God anywhere, at any time, but the chances are that you will not do so unless you have first learned to worship Him somewhere in some particular place, at some particular time.” (Theodore Roosevelt)
May we be people of practice, may our faith be deepened, and as we come to Holy Week and Easter may our eyes be drawn to Jesus, the one who is worthy of all our worship, Amen.