A sermon by Michael Cheuk, Pastor, University Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Va.
What a privilege we have this weekend to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jubilate, our university student choir! Jubilate’s presence this morning along with our sanctuary choir is an illustration of today’s lectionary text from Revelation, which describes a choir of angels, human beings and every creature in heaven and on earth singing the Song of the Lamb.
Before I jump into the text we’re exploring today, let me set the stage. We’re reading from the Book of Revelation, a vision reported by John. In the verses preceding our text, John is weeping with despair because he cannot find or imagine anyone worthy enough for the holy task of opening the seals of a sacred scroll of God. Yet an elder approaches him and proclaims, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” After John wipes his tears, he turns to see this lion, but instead, he tells us, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne.” At the sight of this Lamb, the heavenly creatures and elders fell down before the Lamb and sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
As John’s vision progresses, he recounts what was read this morning in our New Testament lesson: “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, saying in a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’”
Imagine this scenario with the multitudes of angelic hosts singing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” This text describes a wonderful and inspiring vision for some, but others may not be so impressed. They may think, what does a group of singers ascribing worth to a slain lamb have anything to do with a cynical and harsh world in which wealth buys power, a world in which might makes right, a world in which honor, glory and praise go to the slayers and not to the slain? Today’s world may be willing to acknowledge the worth of a lion, but it sure doesn’t know what to do with the weakness of a lamb. Today’s world sees us singing, and shrugs to say, “So what?”
Several months ago, Beth and I watched a documentary film called The Singing Revolution, which chronicled Estonia’s effort to end decades of Soviet occupation. In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Russian forces invaded and “annexed” the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. By the end of the war, more than a quarter of the Estonian population had been deported, executed, or had fled the country. During the turbulent decades that followed, music became a powerful unifying force in the Baltic republics – a means of preserving the country’s national identity, as well as a tool for political resistance in the face of cultural genocide.
Between 1986 and 1991, while there was violent turmoil and struggle for independence from the Soviet Union in the other Baltic states, Estonians courageously and peacefully demanded that the Soviets recognize their country’s right to statehood and self-governance. They did this not by political protests and not by guerrilla warfare. They did this by gathering by the thousands and singing traditional Estonian songs and new revolutionary songs in town squares, concert halls and sports stadiums. These experiences created a national unity and pride that overcame any Soviet attempts to break their spirit. Within a few years, the Estonians achieved independence from the Soviet Union without the loss of a single life. Estonian activist Heinz Valk, who coined his country’s resistance as the “Singing Revolution,” said proudly, “Until now, revolutions have been filled with destruction, burning, killing, and hate, but we started our revolution with a smile and a song.” Singing fueled the non-violent revolution that defeated a very violent occupation.
The tiny nation of Estonia has shown that there is power in singing, strong enough to instill hope and overcome oppressive regimes. Likewise, there is power in our singing, for we do not sing just any song, we sing the revolutionary Song of the Lamb, a song that challenges the world’s understanding – and perhaps even our own understanding – of the nature of power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.
The Song of the Lamb is a song that pronounces the power of God, not through violent coercion, but through self-sacrificial love. It is a song that displays the wealth of God through the generous outpouring of Christ’s blood. It is a song that articulates the wisdom of God that is perceived by some as foolishness. It is a song that acknowledges the strength of God made perfect in our weakness. The Song of the Lamb is a hymn that ascribes honor, glory and praise to our beautiful Savior who, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).
That is why we sing today and every day. Like the multitudes in John’s vision who gathered from the corners of the earth, we and the alumni of Jubilate have gathered here today, some from across the street, others from across the country, to praise and glorify Jesus, the Lamb of God. Like those heavenly and earthly creatures who sang in one loud voice, we too, raise our voices in one singular chorus of praise, ascribing worth to the Lamb who purchased us by the wealth of his blood. We sing praising the slain Lamb who challenges all the principalities and powers of this world. We sing glorifying the risen Lamb who frees us from the oppression of sin and the power of death. We sing honoring the returning Lamb who will come to redeem the whole universe.
Our singing is an act of holy worship to the One who is both the kingly Lion and the sacrificial Lamb. Our song is a witness to our belief that there is no one else who is worthy of our worship and praise. Therefore, with joyful abandon, let us join the heavenly hosts in singing: “To the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” And all God’s living creatures said, “Amen!”