There is a lamb on the throne.
Quite startling when you think about it really. The youngest and the most vulnerable member of the flock in charge, people looking at it for guidance, for hope, for future.
Turning the world upside down.
Now of course this isnt just any lamb.
It is the lamb without any blemishes that was to be brought to the temple to be slaughtered at pass-over every year. The lamb that would bring back to memory the lambs that had been slaughtered in Egypt, long ago, on the night before the exodus. Whose blood had kept the oldest sons of Israel safe while the angel of death raged through the households of Egypt.
It is the lamb that was send into the wilderness once a year symbolically carrying all the failings of the people on its back, offering a new beginning for everybody at once.
It is the lamb that according to the prophets would quietly go to slaughter and never open its mouth.
The lamb given by God to avert death and to open the possibility of reconciliation, given to be the one true servant of God in the world.
A lamb that is simultaneously strong and powerful (able to ward of death, bring reconciliation and renewal) and vulnerable (slaughtered wrongfully, suffering and offering no resistance).
This lamb is on the heavenly throne, according to Revelations.
A powerful and very political statement:
In the days of John the emperor of Rome was represented by the symbol of the Eagle, a sharp eyed, sharp beaked predator full of primitive and majestic power for whom any lamb would have been easy prey.
Thats what we would generally accept as being an animal more suitable to be associated with powerful leadership and strength, with sitting on a throne, like hawks, lions, tigers and other predators.
A lamb on the throne, and before the throne people dressed in white, approaching through a river of blood. Like an army coming out of battle. Not with their breasts puffed out, not with arms at the ready, not with armour on, but in spotless white robes.
It was extremely difficult in Johns time, to keep anything white. It was hardly possible to bleach material in such a way that it was really and truly white to start with and after that there wasnt the convenience of modern washing powders and machine to clean them.
Yet here is an army clad in white, shining with purity and cleanliness. All looking like the unblemished coat of the lamb that is on the throne. Nothing speaking more of their belonging to him, their being one with him, than those shining white robes.
They come from all nations, all tribes and all tongues. From every corner of the earth they have come to hail this lamb as King.
I bet the Roman emperor would have loved it if people had done this for him, and on their own accord! Waving palm branches and shouting: "Salvation belongs to our Emperor on the throne! "
But no, it is to another King that this multitude pays allegiance to, another who they see as their saviour.
Who are they?
These are the ones that have come out of the great tribulation says an angel. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. They have become part of the sacrifice, theyve become one with the lamb brought to slaughter to bring reconciliation, to avert death. They have gone through rivers of blood to come to the throne. But now they are there their robes are white as fresh snow.
In other words: Although these people have gone through hell and high water, although these people have suffered with and because of the lamb, theyve come through and are now part of his Kingdom.
Many Christians suffered in the time of John. Many would have seen rivers of blood flowing around their fellow Christians, threatening to sweep them away on the orders of the Roman emperor who considered himself God and ruler of the world as it was at that very moment.
Many had become refugees, on the road with fear in their hearts and struggling to hang on to their faiths. Hungry, thirsty, struck by the merciless Mediterranean Sun, tormented by relentless heat, weeping for fellow Christians, friends and family members whod been put to death or fed to the lions.
The river of blood was harsh reality for those people, not an image theyd shrink from as we would possibly do. Their world not as sanitized as ours. Slaughter, war, violence part of their existence.
To them John says: Look, the lamb is on the throne, and God put him there. He is bringing his people in from all corners of the world to a reality where there is no longer any hunger or thirst.
Next to the roman emperor on his throne surrounded by his court John places the lamb surrounded by angels. Next to the world of terror they are part of the world of the lamb where there will no longer be weeping, but where the shepherd will lead his people to the springs of life.
Two worlds placed opposite each other.
One is the world of international terrorism and imperialism. The world where lives are dispensable and the power crazy rule the day. Where justice is seen to be as not half as important as self-interest. Generosity an indulgence people can hardly afford. Preparedness for reconciliation is considered a weakness and war a fact of life. (believe me, nothing has changed).
The other a world where a lamb sits on the throne.
A lamb that does not speak when it is led to slaughter.
A lamb that suffers and bleeds for justice, for peace, for reconciliation and does not seek revenge for wrongs done to it. A lamb as vulnerable and insignificant as anyone who is at the bottom of the heap.
Another world where people from all corners of the earth gather around the throne of the lamb through rivers of blood, sweat and tears, through hunger and thirst, through suffering and tough challenge to become part of a world where weeping is no longer be heard.
A world where vulnerability and the ability to bear suffering to bring justice and peace to birth for all people are counted higher than the ability to fight and stand up for oneself.
A world where the robes are white, where people stand before God, washed clean by his grace, redeemed by his mercy, spotless and blameless and no longer part of a world where nothing seems to escape contamination with the base instincts that rule.
John puts them next to each other to encourage those who have chosen to follow in the footsteps of the lamb and whose faith is challenged by the seeming strength of the powers that rule the world around them.
It could be an encouragement for us too. It is not John, or George or Tony that rule the world. It is not Osama Bin Laden either. A world full of hunger, violence and injustice is not an inescapable necessity.
There is another reality taking shape. Irrepressible, unstoppable, there is a lamb on the throne, and from east and west and north and south people are coming to honour it with their lives. Going through rivers of blood and suffering they come to the throne unscathed, their sins washed away, their eyes on the throne, they live out the life of the Lamb. Justice, peace, righteousness flowing like a river into the world, cleaning the world of darkness and evil, bit by bit, step by step, until the promises of God will be fulfilled. Amen.