Revelation 5. 1-10

Sermon preached by
The Reverend Professor Leslie Houlden
18 January 2009

There is no point in reading from the Revelation of John and then going on as if nothing had happened.  And if you felt the writer must have been mad, you can be excused:  his ways of seeing things and expressing himself were very different from ours.   But if I call him a poet, you might be willing to give him a hearing. A big difficulty for us is that is a Christian who is soaked in the Old Testament and puts its images and symbols through the Christian mincer – and what you read is how it came out.  But it is not easy – for us, for whom this is an alien tongue..

But strange as it is, I hope you caught the terrible anguish when God’s word cannot get out:  it seems to be blocked for ever.  The scroll where that ‘word’ is written is sealed up, and no-one is worthy to open it.  So how shall we ever know what God wants us to know?  It is desperate anguish, and we must try and share it.  How terrible if God’s truth for us had never got out for us to hear and know and live by.

In a mixture of Old Testament symbols, driving us potty, the lion, who is also a lamb (like gentle Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), arises and breaks the intolerable tension.  What a way to describe and bring home the meaning of Jesus. And if I had any sense, I would stop so we can absorb this extraordinary way of giving an account of what Jesus was for and what he achieved. It is a far cry from the Babe of Bethlehem, from the preacher of Galilee, even from the man of Calvary and of Easter.  This is Jesus who bears the whole weight of God’s coming to us:  and we can only sit in amazement and silence.  It is beyond belief and beyond argument. 

But perhaps we can get inside it a bit if we think of crises that we have endured:  when we agonized whether A levels – our own or our children’s – would be good enough;  whether we had got the job we longed for and the interview was rather dicey;  and whether ‘she’ would actually say yes or ‘he’ would ever ask – and the future of our whole life hung upon it.  We have all had times of crisis, even if they were many years ago, when everything really did hang in the balance.  And if we have been responsible for the future of others and have loved them, then maybe we have waited for the scroll to open, hoping against hope, many times.

But for our poet, what is at stake is the meaning and the future of everything.  Somehow, the lamb, weak and of no account, opens the seals of the scroll, or (to alter the picture) he gives himself to death – for everybody who ever was and ever is:  and we must please recognize what has been done for us.  Whoever we are, what Jesus did transforms our sense of how we stand in the world, of what matters and what does not matter:  and if we can grasp the gift and the precious truth of God, by way of his helpless lamb, we are as we were made to be.

It is like a fairy story – some way from the simple faith of every day, just keeping going, doing a bit of good when we can and even, sometimes, at our own inconvenience.  But if we do not have a sense of what might never have been – if the scroll had never been opened, the seals never broken, then we start to take God for granted – and God is just our buddy.  It is all more serious, more risky than that. And the writer of the Revelation was a master at creating the tension that will cure us of the plodding faith and open the door to the rushing love of God:  and we shall sing a new song, time and again.

The Reverend Professor Leslie Houlden

Arms of Lady Katherine Leveson

The Foundation of Lady Katherine Leveson
Registered Charity no. 213618
Temple Balsall, Knowle, Solihull, West Midlands B93 0AN

contact us         site map

Sustainable Design - created to work