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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter 4, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 25, 2010

Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

The Lion and the Lamb’

The Book of Revelation is often compared to works of science fiction. Its truths are expressed in some ways similar to those of the modern literary and cinematic genre. It might be argued that the most modern Computer Generated Imagery technology is still not up to the task of depicting the vision of John the seer/poet. Those arguments to one side, Revelation delights in the intermingling of the senses, technically synaethesia (seeing what is heard; hearing what is seen, etc.), and makes use of a technique very familiar to readers and viewers of science fiction: audio and visual morphing.

In Revelation 5, John hears that the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” has conquered, but he sees a Lamb that has been slaughtered. The reference to the Lion of Judah recalls Old Testament promises concerning a messianic king, and the vision of the slain Lamb shows that these promises are realised through the death of Christ.

In exactly the same way, John hears about the redeemed who come from the twelve tribes, which recalls Old Testament promises concerning God’s preservation of Israel; but when he actually sees the realisation of the promise, he encounters a countless multitude coming from every tribe and nation.

Just as references to the Lion and the Lamb enable readers/hearers to consider the same person (Christ) from two different perspectives, the references to the 144,000 and to the great multitude allow readers to see the same community (Christ’s followers) from two different perspectives. The community of faith encompasses people from many tribes, nations and languages, yet this same community represents the fulfillment of God’s promises concerning the preservation of Israel. If the promises concerning “the Lion of Judah” are not negated but fulfilled through the blood of the Lamb, the promises concerning “the tribe of Judah” and the other tribes are not negated but fulfilled through the multitudes that are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

The Lamb “conquers” through his death, and the fallen/risen followers celebrate this triumph by waving palm branches – traditional symbols of victory – in their hands. These are complexly imaginative notions – that is, richly theological notions, revelations in words of a truth too big and bright for words: If God brought Christ, the Lamb, through death to a place on the heavenly throne, readers/hearers can persevere in faith, confident that God will bring all of God’s people (and non-humans, too – symbolized by the “four living creatures”) through tribulation to a place in the heavenly court.

Dare we say more?

On this Anzac Day, we might say something about a not-so godly morphing. We might say that in their manipulation of the memory of the fallen, the powers-that-be would have our honouring of the fallen morph into a worshipping of the victims where the victims become inseparably linked to symbols such as the flag and democracy and national borders and “our freedom”, and our worship of them thus morphs into an endorsement of the need to defend such things with violent military force if and when required.

Those who have fought in war will mostly tell you that war is futile and that in the midst of its hellish conflict, the fighting is about the survival of me and my mates, and not much about “noble” concepts like democracy and freedom. Even those soldiers who remain champions of the nationalistic agenda will often say that war is a tragic way to go about achieving them. General Peter Cosgrove, probably Australia’s most popular military commander, is quoted as saying that war is an extremely stupid way of doing things. He hasn’t converted to pacifism, but his words do point to the fact that we can honour the memory of those who have been sacrificed in war without having to endorse either the ideologies that they were sacrificed to defend, or the actions by which they defended them. Rather than join in the worship of them as icons of the very system that sacrificed them, we can stand with them in the white-robed multitude and join them in worshipping the God who is made known in the Lamb who was slain, the ultimate sacrificial victim who exposes the senseless violence of our world and its entrenched powers.

For even as Jesus accepts the worship of the white-robed multitude, he honours them as fellow victims with him and wipes away every tear from their eyes. Far from neglecting their memory, it is in remembering and honouring this multitude of victims that Jesus turns the spotlight of truth on the violent system that keeps on demanding more blood.

When God raised Jesus from the dead and he appeared as the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world, still speaking words of reconciliation and forgiveness, the truth was out in the open: The powers and principalities of this world had done their worst, but they were exposed as callous and bloodthirsty warlords who will go on spilling the blood of victims as long as we remain in thrall to their propaganda.

At one level the sacrifice of Jesus is just one more in an endless line. But if we see with the eyes of faith, it is the sacrifice that ends all sacrifices. We have been sold a lie about the war to end all wars – a war cannot help but sow the seeds of the next war. But in the sacrifice of the innocent victim, and in the refusal to respond to violence with more violence, this sacrificial victim offers us the one and only way out of the cycle of vengeance and victim-making.

At the rising of the sun, and at the going down of the same, we will remember the Victim, and all the victims of the madness of our world. And as we gather around this altar-table we will stand with them, and with all the white-robed martyrs who have been sacrificed down through the ages, and bear witness with them that the powers of death are defeated by the power of love and life, and that the sacrificing can end and that all the world can be one.

We haven’t said anything yet about the morphing of the Lamb into the Good Shepherd. Or have we?


Draws on Craig R. Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things (2001), and a reflection by Nathan Nettleton