Ministry and Technology: Scripture Reflections

Part Three: Worthy is the Lamb

Back to Part One; Part Two

Revelation 4

The Apocalypse of St. John the Divine did not fare well in the modern, linear, book-based world. At heart this may be because it promised an end of history other than that of enlightened rationalism and inevitable economic progress. The evil of human attempts at total control will persist, until the once-for-all victory of the Crucified Lamb is fully realized at God’s appointed time. In response, some branches of western Christianity sought to encapsulate this into a rationalist framework by requiring these events to literally occur at some point. Mainline churches often relegated it to a sort of “appendix,” ignored it as too bizarre or inappropriate for polite conversation. The apocalyptic medium that communicates this message is just as challenging to a culture that sees images as apocryphon rather than apocalupsis, less real and less revealing than a sentence of text plainly written. A plain text we can comprehend, we can grasp or encapsulate, make fit within our understanding. But the imagistic scene of the Heavenly Throne Room comprehends us, envelops us, and we experience it in ways that can include but also exceed our cognitive understanding.

The lightning, thunder, jeweled throne and flaming torches are intimidating, humbling. The four living creatures are certainly bizarre, perhaps moreso than their counterparts in Daniel 7. Their manifold eyes and wings, animals that can speak day and night: those are unlike anything we encounter in the real world. What the creatures continually say, and the fact that they all say it together, is of utmost importance: “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” (4:8) The whole scene decentres us, decentres our attempts to control and exploit the rest of creation. It centres God and reveals that we are but a part of a wider creation that exists ultimately to worship Him. As St. Augustine confesses, we are “but a particle of your Creation” yet “you awaken us to delight in your praise; for you made us for yourself…”(Confessions, 1.1; an updating of Pusey’s translation)

Revelation 5

Once we pass through to the humility required of us, of John on Patmos and Isaiah in Jerusalem, our role is then given to us. It is significant that God’s appointed time is indicated by a scroll with seals, another recognizable piece of human technology on which God’s eternal plan for cosmic restoration is written. A “mighty angel” immediately asks the question on everyone’s mind: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (5:2) In our age of instant digital access, which questions the authority of priests, kings and philosophers alike, the fact that no one in all of Creation can open the scroll is especially poignant. No one, of course, except “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David” who “has conquered,” (5:5) and yet paradoxically emerges as “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.” (5:6) The lion has conquered, has received the authority of time and truth, by becoming a slaughtered lamb.

In our age of instant digital access and questioned authority, this scene calls us to articulate anew what is so compelling about the truth of the Gospel. As Christendom morphed into book-based enlightenment rationalism, it was enough to bind people together through common doctrinal assent: we all read the same linear Scriptural text, recited the same linear creedal formulations, and for the most part the implications these had on our communal lives could be assumed. It is not that Scriptural and creedal authority has itself diminished; rather, the diminishment in society of linear text in favour of image and hypertext has exposed the way we might defensively cling to Scripture and creed as if it had some authority in and of itself.

But the scroll and seals have no such authority in themselves: they merely draw our gaze to the Lamb, rightly name the Son’s authority, received from the right hand of the Father (seated on the Throne, 5:7). The creed and the councils that wrote them name that the God and Creator of all has embraced, comprehended the full human experience: birth, growth and death, and has triumphed in Resurrection as the perfect Image of God. Truth itself continues to be a person we encounter, who draws “saints from every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9) into this encounter by His loving sacrifice on the Cross. And while our response to this encounter does include creedal recitation, it also includes harps and bowls of prayer and a “new song” of praise. In this context, the creed is not an act of linear doctrinal assent, but a communal act of worship by “a kingdom and priests serving our God.” (5:9, 10)

Revelation 8:1-5

We are now better able to engage with the Apocalypse of St. John the Divine. Many are disillusioned with the enlightenment’s triumphalist claims, and have come home to Revelation’s own claim that the Crucified Christ is Lord of history. Digital media, which expands the possibilities of images, symbols and experiences not bound to linear logic, has helped us recapture the power of symbol and imagination as the bearer of truth, meaning and communal formation. Using symbol and image is once again integral to the task of “making it plain” as called for in Habakkuk 2. The mainstream growth of the science fiction/fantasy genre has aided in expanding our imagination and is also a result of it. In churches from the liberal mainline to the conservative evangelical, western Christians are seeing Sacramental worship with fresh eyes.

A small example of a renewed liturgical focus includes an appreciation for silence and quiet alongside verbal explanation, a disciplined counter to the cacophonous noise also created by digital technology’s instant communication. Another small example is the increased use of something so non-rational as incense: we really imagine that smoke emanating from a thurible can carry our prayers to God, can set the altar and ministers apart for divine service, can shine the light of heavenly fire onto a dark and broken world. And above all, in communion with those gone before us, we truthfully imagine that God the Crucified Lamb has given Himself over to us in bread and wine, that this is how He draws us to Himself, and that everything we are and do as the Church springs from this source. It is true that Christians have held these beliefs throughout the modern period, and that the Ministry of the Word and our cognitive and rational faculties remain important ways that God speaks to us and gathers us, especially within a liturgical context. But the task of “making it plain” in our digital age calls us to a wider embrace of our senses and imagination, enabling us to turn to older and newer forms of worship.

Published by Matthew Neugebauer

MA in Theology, Anglican, Star Wars #Prequelist, Toronto FC Supporter

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