In the fourth chapter of the Apocalypse, we see a description of the heavenly worship. Now, when Moses was given the requirements and descriptions for the construction of the earthly tabernacle and the rites to be performed in it, it was to be an earthly mirror of the heavenly reality. The figures given were understood to imitate and intimate, in their way, the Spiritual realities they pointed to. And indeed, there is a great deal of Jewish commentary on the typology and symbolism present in the rites and implements.
In John's vision, we see a description (albeit, still in images and types! The only way our earthly selves can perceive!) of that heavenly reality. Not all of it is present in this 4th chapter; some details come later. But we see that where the Temple of Solomon contained a “sea” made of brass–an immense basin containing several hundred gallons of water for the priests to wash in–, John beholds a “sea” made of glass like crystal. The temple was served by the Levitical priesthood; John beholds twenty-four elders - “priests” in the Greek – adoring. The focus of the Tabernacle and then the temple was the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies: the top of it being the “mercy seat” flanked by cherubim. John beholds a seat, and one thereon, flanked by 4 “Living Creatures”. The throne, cherubim, and possibly the sea – have also been seen before in Ezekiel. The beasts are seen to have six wings, full of eyes, and they sing, “Holy, holy, holy.”
So, why, on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, are we given a reading that contains no overt references to the Trinity? Perhaps it is because our own worship is also a mirror of the heavenly, and it is through our worship that we come to have some bit of understanding about the Trinity.
For us, as for the ancient Hebrews, the analogy is not exact, and naturally contains certain differences due to the fact that the object of our worship is in heaven! Our Throne is the altar, and the one seated thereon is Jesus. Within the next few chapters of John's vision, Jesus will appear as the slain Lamb; but for us, he is God Incarnate. He is the only image of and way to the Father on the heavenly throne. As we sing at Christmas, quoting Wisdom 18, “For while all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, thine Almighty Word leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne.” Around the heavenly throne are 24 elders dressed in white and wearing crowns; the earthly altars are surrounded by clergy in white albs, and crowned with the tonsure of humility. In heaven the throne issues lightnings, thunderings, and voices; on earth we hear God in the silence. The seven lamps of fire burning before the throne remain in the Orthodox East, we of the West alter the number of candles we place about the altar. The Sea of crystal in heaven is mirrored by our baptismal font of stone.
Four Living Creatures are described, flying, seeing, and singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” When they do so, the elders fall down, and glorify the one on the throne. In our worship the Living Creatures are the Four Gospels. The first portion of our worship builds toward the reading of the Gospel. It is this which lifts our souls, as with wings, toward the object of its worship and ours; which gives us eyes of understanding; and which compels us to respond, “Holy!” and so in the Mass of the Faithful, we sing with them, and with the priests we fall before the throne, giving ourselves to God in thanksgiving for our creation and redemption.
How then, does this Scripture represent the Trinity, and how do we encounter it? Very little, as I mentioned, is said here. Christ is mentioned once, in the first verse, summoning John with a voice like a trumpet to behold the mysteries. The Holy Ghost may be mentioned once or twice: John was said to be immediately “in the spirit”; and the lamps before the throne are the seven Spirits of God. Finally, the Father is seated upon the throne, like jasper or sardine.
But we, farther away in understanding from the heavenly mysteries, are more explicit in the operations of the Trinity. All our prayers are directed to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. All our worship begins, as John's did, “in the Spirit.” It is the presence of God within us, the love of God among us, that turns our gaze to God. Within the Church on Earth, we find the Son, and through him are led – through the waters of baptism, the desert of fasting, to the cross of self-sacrifice where, casting down our golden crowns, we truly can be brought into the presence of our Creative Father.
Ascension Day Sermon by The Rev. Mr. Michael Shirk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.