By Sherry Black
Reading from Revelation, 4:1-11
1 After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 3And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. 4Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 6and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal. Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle.
8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” 9And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, 11“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
One of my favorite Advent devotional books is Between Two Worlds by Kate Moorehead. She tells of a woman who has a dream in which the sky is torn open, and from the narrow rip in the air, she receives a glimpse of heaven. She tearfully describes her vision: “There were colors there. Colors more vibrant, more real than anything I have ever seen. They made everything here seem like it exists in black, white, and gray. There were colors… .”
Like that woman, when John and other biblical witnesses like Ezekiel and Daniel try to write what they see of heaven, words come across as inadequate. They are trying to explain the unexplainable, the unimaginable. John sees “four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind”: one like a lion, one like an ox, one with the face of a human, and one like an eagle, and they each have “six wings . . . full of eyes all around and inside.” Who can even visualize what John is trying to describe?
But there is no doubt of the meaning in the words as the creatures sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And these eye-covered creatures are joined by twenty-four elders, prostrate in worship, casting their crowns before the throne and singing, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Plain words of worship and praise, wonder and awe! Hallelujah!
The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for nine years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.
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