March 15th, 2016

The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All” 

cross36“Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worth to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.'”

“Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song: ‘You are worthy t take the scroll and to open its seals for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God and they will reign on earth.'”

“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, 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!'”

“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.'”

“And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:1-14)

The book of Revelation fittingly concludes the biblical teaching about the tragic and triumphant cross with symbolic drama. The scroll with the seven seals, held in God’s right hand, contains the divine plan to redeem the whole of creation and reclaim the fallen world. This divine plan, foreshadowed in the Hebrew scriptures, was put into effect through the sacrificial death of Christ. Thus, there is only One who is worthy and able to open this scroll and break its seven seals, the divine Lamb.

Throughout the book of Revelation the Lamb is the dominant image for the triumph of God’s saving plan. This symbolic creature, representing the crucified and glorified Christ, stands in the center of God’s throne and receives all the praise of the heavenly multitudes. He is the one who has put God’s redemptive plan into effect and who, now enthroned in heaven, will see that it comes to completion.

The Lamb is described as having seven horns, seven eyes, and possessing the seven spirits of God sent throughout the earth. Since seven represents completion and perfection, this very non-literal image expresses the all-powerful and all-knowing nature of Christ, and the omnipresence of his Spirit released to accomplish his work in the world. More significantly, the Lamb is described as “standing as if it had been slaughtered”. This is no imperial conqueror, but a pathetic and diminutive lamb, bearing the effects of its sacrificial slaughter, yet standing in conquest. Here is the wounded though risen Christ.

The blood of Christ ransomed a great worldwide multitude, “saints from every tribe and language and people and nation”. From the nationalism of Israel and the ethnic exclusiveness of Judaism comes a universal people. He who died as a king and a priest now extends his royal and holy reign throughout the world, making all his disciples “a kingdom and priests,” reigning on the earth and serving God in the new, universal priesthood.

The universality of Christ’s victory on the cross calls for a universal response. He is praised by the patriarchs and apostles of old, by thousands upon thousands of angels, and by “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea.” No part of the created universe is excluded from the redeeming and reconciling power of the cross. All creation sings a new song with full voice, falling down to worship before God and the Lamb.

The cross, which in the eyes of the world looks to be a symbol of defeat, poverty, foolishness, weakness, shame, disgrace, and cursing, has been transformed through the wondrous plan of God into an instrument of “power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Christ, still bearing the marks of his crucifixion, reigns forever over the world.

Reflection

Why is the image of the Lamb such an effective way of summing up the Bible’s teaching about the tragic and triumphant cross?

Prayer

Glorious Christ, you have conquered the powers of darkness and called your people to be a universal kingdom of priests. May we lift high your glorious cross and proclaim your victory to all the world.

Amen

 

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