There is an almost unavoidable impulse in human beings towards worship. There is something in us that leads us to worship. Our eyes are drawn to what is attractive, and our hearts are turned to admiration which leads to worship.
If we do not worship God, we will invest our energy and resources for worship elsewhere. We joke about football being a religion, but it terms of worship that is not very far from the truth. Humans are inclined to shift the object of their worship from God to others. Our attention and admiration turns to heroes of one sort or another. So yes, to sporting heroes, football players, but also musicians and film actors also attract. Our admiration might be directed towards those who have been successful in some other field, like business or technology. Or there are other heroes, figures of power which might capture our imagination, occasionally that would be a politician, or a charismatic leader in some other field. More often than not what follows our admiration of these people is that they are lavished with wealth and even power. Indeed we might simply worship wealth or power in themselves.
There is of course a connection between the words “worship” and “worthy” We worship what we deem worthy. And there is also a connection between the words “worthy” and “worth” That which is worthy possesses the quality of worth And the word “worth” is more of less synonymous with the word “value” Our worship therefore shows what we value. Indeed our worship shapes our values. What we worship establishes the values which we live by and the world which we create around ourselves.
John is given a vision of the worship of heaven. And it reaches its climax in this scene. John hears a great acclamation:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!
The Lamb, the object of this worship is praised and deemed worthy of everything valuable. Every accolade is placed on the Lamb. The acclamation of the lamb begins closest to the throne of God with the multitude of angels which surround it. But their voices are joined by the living creatures and the elders. John doesn’t, perhaps he can’t, explain who these are. The point he makes though is there are a lot of them: myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands. A multitude in heaven, beyond counting, praise the Lamb. But this worship spreads and is quickly joined by:
every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them.
The praise of the Lamb extends to everyone and everything everywhere! The symbolism of the Lamb that was slaughtered should of course be obvious. Jesus is the one who died, and whose death makes him worthy of praise. The theological point which John’s vision implies is that Jesus is worshipped alongside God in heaven and everywhere else. The object of Christian worship is Jesus.
One of the problems which reading the Bible in Church throws up is that we can never read quite enough. Given the constraints of time we tend to read relatively short passages. Here we have read only five verses, the last third of the chapter of which they are part. So we miss that a deliberate contrast is being made in what John sees. Before John sees and hears the praise of the Lamb that was slaughtered, he hears and sees that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is declared worthy to open the seals on the book of judgement. The symbolism of the Lion of Judah is messianic. Therefore we should see that this symbolism also applies to Jesus. The lion is the king of the beasts. It is powerful, a creature of great strength and ferocity. This is the messiah as a conquering hero like King David. Which of course is in complete contrast with the symbolism of the lamb. Which is a weak vulnerable creature. The lamb can offer no resistance to its own suffering and ultimate destruction. The paradox of Christian faith and worship is that Jesus is both. Jesus is both the conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Lamb that was slaughtered. But the irony of the vision which John receives is that it is the Lamb who receives all the accolades, it is not the Lion who is worshipped by heaven and all creation. And what is more, it is the Lamb who sits on the throne with God.
John’s vision of the worship of heaven points us to a key to understanding the meaning of the gospel. The gospel gives us an alternative story, an alternative perspective to the ones which normally dominate our lives. The gospel is a story in which the victim’s side is taken. It is not a story which is told from the perspective of a lion! In the conventional narratives which surround us, about refugees, the victims of war and domestic violence, the victims of economic injustice and environmental destruction, in conventional narratives victims are seen a problem, as troublemakers and subversives. In the gospel we have a story of suffering, of a killing told from the perspective of the victim, the Lamb that was slaughtered. The gospel narrative stands in contrast to one of the dominant narratives which is told in our society, the myth of redemptive violence. In that story it is the one who kills who brings about salvation, and where the victims are to blame for the violence used against them, it is a lion’s story. In the gospel it is the one who dies who brings about salvation, and where the victim is innocent and subject to unjustified violence, it is the lamb’s story. The gospel is a story which asserts the victim’s innocence, and story in which the victim is finally vindicated, in the resurrection, and here too in the praises of heaven. The effect of telling this story is to unmask the delusions and distortions of the conventional narrative. It exposes the violence that is inherent in maintaining the status quo.
What the gospel, which leads to the Lamb that was slaughtered being worshipped in heaven, shows is the danger of worshipping something else. The worship of wealth and power, the valuation of those things, leads to the inequality, injustice, violence and destruction that we se around us. What we worship establishes the values which we live by and the world which we create for ourselves.
If it is the Lamb that was slaughtered that is praised by heaven, then we have to ask the question of the sort of lifestyle which is acceptable to God What the praise of the Lamb in John’s vision forces us to consider is the values by which Christians live. We are offered a different vision of what is worthy. And also a different picture of what success and even power look like. This is really hard for us to hold on to in a society and culture that admires wealth and power and self-aggrandisement. But in John’s vision it is not the wealthy or the powerful or the self-promoted who attract the fame and the attention It is not the mighty or the ingenious who run the system and keep things as they are who sit on the throne. It is the Lamb which was slaughtered who is worthy. The Lamb is the object of Christian worship, and Christian values flow from that worship. Self offering, in love and service, in weakness, are recognised as powerful and acceptable to God, and in the praises of heaven
Worship of the Lamb by Christopher Wood-Archer is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0