Unity Lutheran Church + Christ the King Campus
12 May 2019 + Fourth Sunday of Easter
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
Think of your favorite oxymoron. These are usually short phrases or figures of speech that contain two seemingly contradictory words or images: old news, same difference, original copy, seriously funny, historical fiction, civil war… What else?
We use these phrases all the time in conversation — so much that we don’t even think about the individual words themselves — and the whole phrase takes on a meaning all its own. Even the word “oxymoron” itself comes from two Greek words that mean “sharp” and “dull.”
Here’s another one: Our Lamb has conquered. It’s part of the official seal of one of the Moravian Church, one of our full communion partners in the ELCA. And it’s what one of my New Testament professors from seminary claims as the central theme of the book of Revelation.
Why would any preacher in their right mind choose to preach on Revelation and tackle a book that is often so difficult to understand and interpret, you ask? Even Martin Luther, our denominational namesake, would have preferred to keep Revelation out of his own translation of the New Testament. There’s no question this book scares us, but it doesn’t have to! In fact, Revelation’s original message is far from scary. Revelation is a message of hope.
The author of Revelation lived during a time when the Roman Empire dominated. Rome was all about world domination, literally. Rome’s idea of world peace was a world that would be entirely ruled by them — which was great, if you were upper-class Roman, but it came at a costly price for everyone else. And if you didn’t buy into Rome’s vision, Rome had ways of making your life miserable.
The writer of Revelation and his fellow Christians fell squarely in this latter camp. He hated Rome, and writing Revelation was his way of showing it. In a world where those who opposed Rome’s vision drew the short straw, Revelation presents another way. The current system of Roman domination was not the way it had to be, and indeed there is another way: the way of the Lamb.
We actually first meet this Lamb a couple chapters before today’s reading. The scene is classic apocalypse literature — not in the sense of world-ending destruction but revealing, which is what “apocalypse” means. In that scene, there’s a scroll that must be opened, but there’s no one worthy to open it… except: the Lion of the tribe of Judah who has conquered! Surely the mighty, conquering lion is worthy!? This would have been an expected, predictable move in apocalyptic literature, where the figure of a fierce animal stood at key plot-advancing moments.
But what emerges instead? A lamb — and one that looks as though it’s been slaughtered?! A far cry from the conquering lion. A surprising plot twist that begs for attention.
Jump ahead to our text today, and the great multitude that no one could count gathered around God’s throne acclaims this Lamb as the one who brings salvation. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to God and the Lamb forever!
No wonder we get these texts from Revelation in our lectionary readings this Easter season. These are texts that inspire our canticles of praise and hymns of Easter triumph:
At the Lamb’s high feast we sing,
praise to our victorious king!
For the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign!
This is the feast of victory for our God! Alleluia!
Indeed, Revelation helps us sing our way into God’s new, Easter vision for our world — proclaiming Christ’s resurrection and victory over the forces of death and destruction.
The Lamb we sing of is an unexpected character in Revelation, and the victory of the Lamb is an unexpected plot twist. You’d expect Roman military conquest to be met with reactionary military might and revolution. But that’s not the way of the Lamb. That’s not the way our Lamb conquers. Instead, we get the image of the slain but living Lamb who shows us that God’s self-giving love is stronger than anything the empire can muster.
“Lamb power,” one theologian calls it. And it’s a vulnerable kind of power.
Just this past Tuesday, Christianity lost one of its most influential and well-respected contemporary writers, the Canadian philosopher and theologian Jean Vanier, whose life and work testified to the power of vulnerability. Vanier is perhaps best known for the L’Arche communities he helped found — group homes for adults living with developmental disabilities, scattered across 35 countries around the world.
For Vanier, to love is to be vulnerable. And if God is love, he says, then God is incredibly vulnerable. God doesn’t force God’s love on us, but enters into relationship with us and shows us what love looks like. It looks like Jesus who eats with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, and lepers, without judgment or prerequisite to change. It’s so simple, Vanier says, that it’s even “disarming.” We don’t quite know what to with that kind of vulnerability, that kind of self-giving love — that Lamb Power.
It’s an oxymoron: Lamb Power. But against all odds, it offers us hope. No empire, no system of oppression, no form of injustice, no act of violence, no medical diagnosis — nothing — can overcome Lamb Power and the promise of resurrection and life that it holds.
This is the message of Revelation, and this is our Easter proclamation: Our Lamb has conquered. Our Lamb has conquered all evil and injustice. Our Lamb has conquered death and destruction. Our Lamb has conquered oppression and hatred.
Our Lamb has conquered and carries us through the great ordeals of our lives. Our Lamb is our Shepherd who guides to springs of the water of life, who wipes away every tear from our eyes, who leads us from death into life.
Our Lamb has conquered, and so we can shout: Alleluia! Christ is risen!