Today’s reading from the Book of Revelation introduces us to a new character, the Lamb who was slain. The reference is rather obvious. Jesus is that Lamb. This reading takes me back to my youth when I was an altar server at Mother of Perpetual Help Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The pastor was Fr. Cyril Spiegelhoff. Those who date back to the 50’s will probably remember that on most days, the priest wore black vestments when he celebrated Mass. This was because most Mass intentions were for deceased persons. Fr. Cyril had a rather beautiful black chasuble which had a lamb appliqued on the back of it. The lamb’s head was turned so that it was looking over its back. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that this was an indication that the lamb had been sacrificed because its neck would have been broken in order for it to look over its back.
According to the vision of the sacred writer, it was this lamb who was found worthy to break open the seals of the scroll that was held in the right hand of the One who sat on the throne. When the lamb takes the scroll, the elders and the angels sing a hymn or canticle of victory which is still prayed by the Church today in its evening prayer.
“Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).
The lectionary skips the next four chapters of this book. I suppose that the reason for this gap is simply that as the lamb opens the scroll, he unleashes ghastly figures, horrible in aspect, to ravage the earth and its inhabitants. It is important for us to remember that the Book of Revelation was written at a time of great persecution, a persecution that brought thousands of believers to their deaths. The tortures they endured were horrible indeed. The sacred writer portrays those tortuous times through the creatures released in the first six seals which close the scroll. With each successive seal, the sacred writer reveals that the faithful will be slaughtered by weapons of war, by famine and plague, and by earthquake and natural disaster. When next we read from the Book of Revelation, we will hear of the seventh seal.
The point that the sacred writer is making is that it matters not how the faithful meet their deaths. If they remain faithful to the Lamb, they will triumph just as the Lamb triumphed over those who slayed him.
CUSANS hold this hope close to their hearts. We may suffer from pain, from frustration, from depression, from all of the many illnesses and disabilities that afflict the human race. However, the Book of Revelation reassures us that no matter what the affliction, those who persevere to the end will be saved. If God has rescued his son from death, we who are coheirs with him will also be rescued.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator