[We are coming to the point where all Sundays of the 3 year Common Lectionary will have 2 comments. Watch for news of re-ordering, and perhaps a new project. Meanwhile, use the search box to find comments on particular readings.]
Why, on Creation Sunday, do we go to heaven? It seems that John, writing to a church under some pressure and perhaps expecting more, needs this viewpoint – and perhaps, not least in the run-up to Lent, we do too. Reading Revelation 4 the first thing we see in heaven is a throne. Here is the one who is really in charge! And we see some of the beauty of creation – jasper & carnelian (green and red stones, polished and used for jewellery in the first century), rainbow and emerald. Yes, there is something to be said for seeing God in nature, but notice that while the beauty, order, & colour or diversity, variety and sequences of nature may reflect their Creator, they do not replace Him. They are meant to point us back to the source.
The 24 elders have their thrones – their authority and power – but are in no doubt where it comes from. In the same way the thunder and lightning remind us of the power of nature, and again, this is under control.
We are probably familiar with the nature miracles of the gospels – Jesus can turn water to wine, feed 5,000, and still a storm. I sometimes wonder if we take seriously enough the idea of God as creator of nuclear physics, of biological science, or even his understanding of economics or meteorology. John reminds us that the elders, and then the living creatures refer and defer to the one on the throne, in the hope that we will understand our own need to do the same.
So the beauty of Creation reflects the Creator. And the power in Creation reflects that of the Creator. We could get lost in the detail, beauty and intricacy of the universe – so many do – but the songs of heaven which we echo on earth remind us that our focus should be on the one who creates (and in Revelation 5 is seen as re-creator or redeemer as well). Even these magnificent beings are content to glory to God, to honour and serve him.
For the people who first read this letter, this was critical. Real power was in heaven, and the bullies who threatened them were cheats, out of touch with reality. For us, the threat to our understanding of reality is rather more fragmented. We may be bullied by those who say, “Everybody does this. .” or “You can’t be so old-fashioned . . “ We may simply become lazy or mean because we have what we want and no desire to share it or risk our settled life. We may have got lost in delightful distractions.
Wherever we are, John’s vision calls us back to the real world – the world seen from heaven, where the Creator rules, and those who understand honour, and refer back, to him. Our lives are not in our pleasures, but in the purpose given by their Creator. Our future is not ultimately in the hands of politicians, doctors, or financiers, but of God.