Given how the other readings for this Sunday include the conversion of Saul to Paul in Acts and the account of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius in John 21, a precious few preachers may actually be drawn to this vision from John’s Revelation as the heart of their preaching this week. Therefore, perhaps it would be more helpful to think through how this text interconnects with the other texts, and, even more so, how this text fits liturgically within the event of worship.
To this second point, it is striking that this text (and really all the readings from Revelation in the Easter season) function less like epistles and, in this case, like a second psalm, or what I would like to call a narrated psalm. In between the three stanzas of praise sung by all those living creatures, John the Revelator narrates for us what he sees happening in and around the singing. Notice how with each successive verse, the choir gets larger and larger. First there is the “four living creatures and the twenty-four elders” (verse 8), then the “many angels... and the living creatures and the elders” numbering thousands upon thousands (verse 11), and then “every creature in Heaven and on Earth and under the earth and in the sea” (verse 13). What starts out as something like a barbershop quartet becomes the largest mass choir ever assembled.
What starts out as something like a barbershop quartet becomes the largest mass choir ever assembled.
But from a liturgical perspective, it grows even larger still. In light of the resurrection, John’s vision includes the assembly of all living creatures past, present, and future. Which is to say, it includes us, all those assembled around the Lamb who will gather on this day. Conveniently, we have liturgical resources for our assemblies to add their voices to this song. For instance, singing “This is the Feast” (Lutheran Service Book (LSB) setting one or two) this day, and with gusto, is a no-brainer. Our preaching can help the assembled to make this connection, how John the Revelator sees us in his vision just as much as he sees fantastical creatures and myriads of angels, all of us giving praise to the Lamb who alone is worthy. Which means the narrative is brought into the present moment. We become part of John’s vision, and the narrated psalm becomes an enacted psalm, a point of contact in which our assembly experiences the transcendence of God, Thy Kingdom come.
Among this throng are Saul-become-Paul, Simon-become-Peter, all the disciples, and all the “saints from every tribe and language and people and nation” (verse 9), including all those we love and have lost. If we listen close enough, we will hear their voices mix with ours. What comes after the singing is the same call given to us just as it was given to Peter and Paul: “Follow me.”
Concordia Theology: Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Revelation 5:1-14.
Text Week: A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Revelation 5:11-14