Topic: Biblical Verse: Revelation 5:1–5:14
The Third Sunday of Easter
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
You know it when you hear it. A voice so distinctive, so unique, that it stands out from all the rest. That’s the premise of the NBC show “The Voice,” a program we enjoy watching at home. One of the signatures of this singing competition is the “blind audition,” a segment that just wrapped up. The blind auditions take place at the start of each season, offering an opportunity for the aspiring artists to convince at least one coach to pick them to be on their team. The four coaches, who are seated in oversized red captain’s chairs with their backs to the stage, have only 90 seconds to listen to each contestant’s performance to determine if they are willing to add that singer to their limited roster. Using only the sound of the singer’s voice, the coach has to make the call. But there are a lot of contestants out there, and not all of them get picked to be part of the program. There’s got to be something distinctively good, some attribute or ability that’s above and beyond all the other voices, to get the coach to take notice. And when a coach hears a voice that sounds like it can deliver, they push the big red button in front of them, turning their chair around to face the stage and saying, “I want you.” It’s a great setup, because the coach has to make their decision sight unseen, many times not even discerning the performer’s age or race or character. It’s the voice that makes all the difference.
We hear very distinctive voices calling out from today’s Scripture readings. In two of the three texts, Jesus himself is speaking as our living Lord, following his resurrection on Easter. In the third, we see the Lord but don’t hear him speak, and it’s another voice that rings out unlike any other. As people who have been chosen to be a part of the resurrection community that is the Church, consider how God’s word points us to how He uses voice to bring that community together.
Jesus’ breakfast with the disciples on the beach of the Sea of Galilee is the earliest of our three readings today, coming some time after his first two appearances to them in Jerusalem. Having headed back north to Galilee as the angels at Jesus’ empty tomb had instructed, the disciples pass time by fishing for something to eat or sell. After a long and unfruitful night on the sea, they hear a man’s voice calling from the shore: “Boys, you don’t have any fish, do you?” Replying, “No,” the disciples hear the voice speak again, saying, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” Whether they do so out of frustration or faith, John’s Gospel doesn’t say, but the disciples let down their net again, only to be astounded by a massive catch. When the disciples get back to the shore – following Peter, who couldn’t wait once he’d realized it was Lord on the beach – Jesus welcomes them and feeds them. But it’s Jesus’ voice to Peter that particularly stands out in this episode. Simon Peter, the most vocal and action-oriented of the disciples, was the one who had denied Jesus three times after his arrest. And now, Jesus’ voice calls to Peter three times, asking, “Do you love me?” Reinstating his dear student and friend, Jesus then tells Peter, “Follow me.” Could Peter have possibly known what his future would be like that day?
In our reading from Acts, we hear the account of Paul’s conversion from persecutor to apostle. On his way to the city of Damascus to arrest the Christians there, Paul and his party were stopped dead in their tracks by the risen Christ himself. While the people that were traveling with Paul saw only a brilliant light from above, they still heard the sound of Jesus’ voice call out, even if they didn’t make sense of it. Confronted by a voice unlike any other he had heard and its question, “[W]hy are you persecuting me?”, Paul could only cry out, “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” The voice spoke the truth, as hard to hear as it might have been. But Jesus spoke in love. He didn’t come to destroy Paul, but rather to elect him to the community of faith. The Lord would use this man’s voice to share the good news of life that broke into the world on Easter morning. Blinded by the intensity of his encounter with the risen Jesus, Paul had to be led into Damascus to wait for the healing and direction that the Lord would send his way. But even as the scales fell from his eyes at Ananias’ touch, could Paul have possibly known what lay in his future as someone who would give voice to God’s love for the world through Jesus?
We see what waits ahead. Today’s reading from the book of Revelation looks to the completion of the victory that the voice of Jesus led Peter and Paul to proclaim. Through the apostle John, we get a glimpse of the heavenly celebration that began when Jesus returned to his Father, a celebration that will continue through all time and beyond. God the Father, seated in majesty, holds in His mighty right hand the sealed scroll of His plan for the salvation of creation. John begins to weep when he learns that no one – not even the angels gathered around God’s throne – no one is worthy and able to open that scroll and bring rescue to creation. No one, that is, but one: Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us and all the world free from slavery to sin. The Lamb alone makes possible the delivery of God’s plan of salvation for His creation, which sin doomed to destruction. And so, when the Lamb takes the scroll from his Father’s hand, all the heavens begin to give voice to the song of praise in recognition of the Lamb and his victory, the victory that he won for us. See, Revelation isn’t some fantasy book that caps off the end of the Bible: it’s the story of Jesus Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil. It gives us a glimpse of how his life, death, and resurrection have changed the destiny of God’s people and altered the future of all those who follow Jesus’ voice to life that is lived in a world where Easter is reality. Revelation is a message of encouragement to the Church that Jesus has won, and his victory is victory for us. The Lamb who is worthy has made it possible for you to be in God’s presence now and forever. God has chosen you to be His child. The song of praise to the Lamb that fills the heavens around God’s throne is a song that you and I get to be a part of today.
Singing. It’s something that Lutheran Christians are known for, but we don’t always sing that well. And by “sing that well,” I don’t mean “sing off key” – I mean that we just don’t sing. You might feel like you can’t sing, that you don’t have the skill or training to manage more than a warble, if that. You might feel embarrassed about what other people will think about your singing. Or you might feel like the songs and hymns are unfamiliar or all too strange, like their some foreign language that you don’t speak. No worries – none of those things matter to God! Don’t just sit there silent in the pew, disconnected from the song of the Church. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the choir or in the pew, the song of the Church is your song! Even when we fall short in our skill or fall flat in our tune, the people of God gather to sing out the praise of the Lamb. The song might go, “a mighty fortress is our God,” or “I am Jesus’ little lamb,” or it might be the Hallelujah Chorus, but all of them give voice to the Easter victory that Jesus won, for us.
You might have a much easier time singing outside the sanctuary walls. In the comfortable confines of your car, you probably sing along with the radio when a favorite or familiar song comes on. You might join in joyful song when your team wins the national championship (or cry out in bluesy mourning if they lose). Singing out, you are giving voice to what’s inside you.
When we sing in worship, we give voice to the song of the Church, the song that tells the story of our history as God’s people and of our Savior, the Lamb. It’s a call and response, whether it’s a pastor chanting the liturgy or a congregation chanting in rhythm to a song: Jesus’ voice speaks to us through his Word in Scripture, and we reply back in thanksgiving and praise of our Lord, who saves us. Singing in worship is a form of prayer, conversation with God, rising as incense before His heavenly throne. You are a part of the congregation whose shared song of praise has begun and continues throughout eternity.
God has called you to be a kingdom of “priests:” the community of the Church, baptized believers who give voice to the Lamb’s life-giving victory. Men and women, boys and girls; people of every age and race and character, you are messengers. Participate in the song of the Church within the sanctuary walls. As priests of the Lamb, carry that song outside these walls to give voice to the message of Easter hope, inviting others to be a part of the song that we share in Jesus. As we hear in Psalm 30, the Lord takes even our songs of mourning and turns them into anthems of joy.
I’ve often thought that our Saturday afternoon worship shouldn’t be called the JOY! service, because whenever we gather for a regular worship service, it is meant to be a service of joy, living in the Lamb and celebrating the victory of Easter. In our Sunday services this weekend, we’ll sing the hymn “Alabaré,” a Spanish and English song that mirrors the heavenly song that John heard the hosts singing around God’s throne. As you sing it, remember that God has called people of every age and race and character and made us all part of that great choir, regardless of your talent or skill.
Join in the song that echoes in heaven, giving voice to the message of life that comes through Jesus, the victorious Lamb. Singing the story of all those, like Peter and Paul, that Jesus has called, you carry a song so distinctive, so unique, that it stands out from all the rest – and that voice makes all the difference.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!