Windows onto God – a sermon for Evensong at Coventry Cathedral, May 28th 2018
I was a teenage chorister, passages like those we’ve just heard used
to drive me to distraction.
see, my favourite escape route when the sermon didn’t grab me was
to wander off in my imagination, into the depths of the readings. This was fine when
they were stories of Jesus and his friends, or parables, or the Old
Testament adventures...journeys through the wilderness, escapes from
captivity...or the beautifully poetic prophecies of Isaiah about
lions and lambs, or deserts bursting into life.
passages like tonights were another thing altogether.
would tie myself in knots trying to actually picture the 4 creatures.
faces, 4 wings, eyes wherever you looked – how on earth did that
Ezekiel and John both indulging in substance abuse?
tended to think that they might be, and would retreat with relief to
whatever was going on in the psalm.
I find myself preaching on those same passages – and its tempting
to take the same escape route.
of course, that there’s no way out!
seems that all our readings, from Old and New Testament and psalm
alike have the same message…
my God, you are very great… You are clothed in splendour and
word of Scripture we’ve heard this afternoon is designed to convey
that...to offer a range of different images that might give us, the
hearers, a window onto God – or, as John experienced it, a “door
standing open in heaven”. Open doors are surely, always, an
invitation...It would be simply perverse to turn away...but as we go
through, we need to adjust our expectations, to understand that we
are entering a different kind of reality.
see, it’s important to notice what’s actually going on in the
writer is attempting an accurate scientific description of something
you might try and draw for yourself (I say this, though behind me you
have John Piper’s interpretation, to which we’ll return later,
which might also help your imagination to take flight).
how often Ezekiel tries to make this clear
looked like four
living creatures...” “The appearance
of the likeness of the
glory of God”.
knows we’re not dealing with exact equivalence. All these images
are things glimpsed through a glass darkly…best guesses at a wonder
beyond all words and all imaginings.
the same way that icons, beloved of the Orthodox tradition, don’t
presume to offer pictures OF God but rather invite us into a way of
contemplating God’s majesty – so these passages are in no way
factual descriptions of the glories of heaven, but routes into
such they are part of a great tradition, and those living creatures
are carefully chosen for their honorable place in Jewish writing as
representatives of the whole of animal life.
declares that each is present because “all have received dominion”
– the “king of the beasts”, the lion, symbolises strength and
power and rules over all wild animals; birds are commanded by the
eagle, far-sighted and visionary, and gifted with eternal youth;
domestic animals are led by the ox, patient, strong, obedient; and
here, too, is humanity, not in any way the “crown” of creation,
but a good, respected part of it.
creatures – made into perfected, extraordinary versions of
themselves, to emphasise just how charged and heightened these
visions really are – because our writers are glimpsing something
truly tremendous. We know this – even while we struggle to place
ourselves beside them, to share their imaginings, see through their
in fact our failures of imagination don’t matter in the least.
These living creatures are there not for themselves but because they
ARE creatures – part of the natural order, beings made for God’s
glory and taking their part, with us, in the eternal song of praise
around God’s throne.
commentator writes of the vision of Revelation 4
is a throne-room for the universe – and the throne is not vacant.
The universe is not a chaos, nor is it ruled by blind fate. Someone
is in charge”….and
this, of course, takes us back immediately to our great tapestry
where that Someone, Christ himself sits, flanked by the four living
creatures that our writers have described to us.
Sadgrove, a former Precentor of the Cathedral, describes the tapestry
as a ‘magic carpet’, carrying the worshipper on a flight not into
fantasy but into reality at three levels – the reality of God, the
reality of the world, and the reality of the person themselves.
what lies on the other side
of the door, if we have the courage to walk through.
We’re no longer dealing with “the appearance of the likeness of
the glory of God” but with a direct encounter with God made human,
with God’s whole life and being walking the earth in the person of
Jesus Christ...that same Jesus who now sits in glory, ruling over our
world, our history and our future.
“window onto God” is quite unlike any other – because we are
invited to come close to, to know for ourselves, to receive into our
own beings the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth”.
pictures fail, and dreams fade on waking, this Christ meets us where
we are, in our everyday lives, and walks beside us here and now.
holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who was, and is, and is to
Revelation, the 24 elders join with the living creatures in a chorus
of universal praise…and surely our ultimate calling is to find our
voices and to join with them..
the meantime, though, we may feel rather more like that human figure
standing between the feet of Christ, simply too close to see what is
going on, oblivious to their surroundings.
though we may not have much grasp of God’s reality, nonetheless we
are secure – because the One who holds the universe in love will
not let us slip or fall, however poor our vision as we travel onward
til the door is fully opened and we are welcomed home to join
ourselves in the song of heaven.