The Apocalypse as Liturgy

Written by: 
Published:
March 27, 2019

This service was part of the Second National Conference of the Association of Adventist Forums, conducted Sabbath morning, March 17, 1984, in the Loma Linda University Church.

Students in a class taught by Alan R. Collins, professor of art at Loma Linda University, created candlesticks representing the seven churches of Revelation to be used on the platform during the Sabbath morning worship service celebrating the Apocalypse as liturgy. The students included Jim Nazario, Teresa Robinson, Brad Rowe, Debra Sherman, and Reza Tabesh.

A worship service approaches the Apocalypse of John as a celestial liturgy. Believers in every age have viewed the Apocalypse not only as a work to be analyzed or deciphered but also as a psalm of praise to be enacted and celebrated. The liturgical format of the book builds on hymns and prayers that are punctuated by doxologies, alleluias, and amens. Worship aids include flaming candlesticks, golden bowls, and burning censers. Participants in the service, in addition to John, are the Risen Lord and assorted heavenly creatures, with fully 144,000 elect leading a vast multitude in antiphonal refrains.

John’s liturgy was written for the seven churches of Asia Minor that endured the alien atmosphere of pagan Rome. These fledgling Christian congregations are implored to honor the Lord of history who conquered the ostentatious wealth and persecuting power of secular culture. As brutal persecution by the Babylonian beast threatens the body, and subtle cultural and economic seduction by the imperial harlot threatens the soul, these remnant communities are exhorted to stand against false religious and political systems and indeed to “come out of her.”

The apocalyptic language of the liturgy hurls hearers through space and time as they journey into heavenly and earthly subterranean spheres while piecing together fragments of humankind’s cosmic story. Divine and demonic symbols of this great controversy flash larger than life on the screen of universal history. Beasts rampage and nations give obedience. Harlots seduce and populations succumb. Winds blow and the earth shakes. Bowls are poured out and history screams. Woes are flung against space and the universe is hushed. And through it all the vast multitude shouts, “Alleluia!”

The Babylonian beasts, imperial harlots, and demonic dragons are real. Very real. The forms of these false systems change, of course, but they stalk the faithful of every age. Yet the shout of “Alleluia!” is also real. It proclaims that ultimate reality lies rather with the New Jerusalem than with Babylon. The unlocked city, the temple-less religion, and the tree of life whose leaves heal the nations, all call up a radically new reality—a reality in which persons and cities and churches and nations spring from values inspired by One who says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

In anticipation of this new reality—and in the face of false Babylonian powers which coerce, manipulate, and persecute—the slain Lamb calls believers to form remnant communities which heal, nurture, and build. This call has enabled the faithful remnant throughout history to cope and to hope. And it is this same call that our own worshiping community celebrates and enacts.

“Hear, you who have ears to hear, what the Spirit says to the churches!”

The Setting

The congregation enters the sanctuary in silence. Each worshiper is provided with a worship folder containing apocalypse art as well as the text of the liturgy. The chancel centrum boasts seven golden candlesticks which range from five to seven feet in height. Each candlestick is sculpted to bear witness to the characteristics of a given church which John the Revelator addresses at the opening of his work. With the reading of each of the seven messages to the seven churches, the respective candle is lit.

The hour previous to worship has included stories of contemporary remnants who have faced beastly Babylonian powers: Dietrich Boenhoeffer, German pastor-theologian who inspired the “confessing church” to resist Hitler’s Third Reich; Anne Frank, young Jewish girl whose diary on the Holocaust survives as an eloquent testament of hope; Maximillian Kolbe, Catholic priest imprisoned at Auschwitz who volunteered to die in the place of a fellow prisoner; and Vladimir Shelkov, True and Free Adventist in Russia who was repeatedly imprisoned for his faith.

The congregation is thus prepared to celebrate the Apocalypse as a psalm of hope which speaks to every age; an affirmation that the baby, the woman, and the remnant triumph over the beast, the harlot, and Babylon.

The Churches

First Reader:

I, John, your brother, who share with you in the suffering

And endurance which is ours in Jesus—

I was on the island called Patmos

Because I had preached God’s word

And borne my testimony to Jesus.

It was on the Lord’s day, and I was caught up by the Spirit;

And behind me I heard a loud voice,

Like the sound of a trumpet, which said to me,

Audience:

Write down what you see on a scroll and send it to the seven churches:

To Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira,

Sardis, Philadeophia, and Laodicea.

Second Reader:

And when I turned, I saw seven standing lamps of gold,

And among the lamps one like a Son of Man.

He laid his right hand upon me and said,

Audience:

Do not be afraid.

I am the first and the last, and I am the living one;

For I was dead and now I am alive for evermore.

Here is the secret of the seven lamps of gold:

The seven lamps are the seven churches.

First Reader:

To the angel of the church at Ephesus write:

I know all your ways, your toil and your fortitude.

Fortitude you have;

You have borne up in my cause and never flagged.

But I have this against you that you have lost your early love.

Think from what a height you have fallen;

Repent, and do as you once did.

Children’s Choir:

To those that are victorious I will give the right to eat

From the tree of life that stands in the Garden of God.

Audience:

Hear, you who have ears to hear, what the Scripture says to the churches!

Second Reader:

To the angel of the church at Smyrna write:

I know how hard pressed you are, and poor—and yet you are rich!

Do not be afraid of the suffering to come.

The Devil will throw some of you into prison, to put you to the test:

And for ten days you will suffer cruelly.

Children’s Choir:

Only be faithful till death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Those who are victorious cannot be harmed by the second death.

Audience:

Hear, you who have ears to hear, what the Spirit says to the churches!

First Reader:

To the angel of the church at Pergamum write:

I know where you live; it is the place where Satan has his throne.

And yet you are holding fast to my cause. You did not deny your faith in me

Even at the time when Antipas, my faithful witness,

Was killed in your city, the home of Satan.

But I have a few matters to bring against you:

You have in Pergamum some that eat food sacrificed to idols and commit fornication.

So repent!

Children’s Choir:

To those who are victorious I will give to eat of the hidden manna.

Audience:

Hear, you who have ears to hear, what the Spirit says to the churches!

Second Reader:

To the angel of the church at Thyatira write:

I know all your ways, your love and faithfulness,

Your good service and your fortitude;

And of late you have done better than at first.

Yet I have this against you:

You tolerate that Jezebel, who claims to be a prophetess,

Who by her teaching lures my servants into fornication

And into eating food sacrificed to idols.

And now I speak to you others in Thyatira,

Who do not accept this teaching.

On you I will impose no further burden.

Only hold fast to what you have, until I come.

Children’s Choir:

To those who are victorious and who persevere in doing my will to the end,

I will give authority over the nations.

Audience:

Hear, you who have ears to hear, what the Spirit says to the churches!

First Reader:

To the angel of the church at Sardis write:

I know all your ways;

That though you have a name for being alive you are dead.

Wake up, and put strength into what is left, which must otherwise die!

For I have not found any work of yours completed in the eyes of my God.

So remember the teaching you received; observe it, and repent.

Children’s Choir:

Those who are victorious shall thus be robed all in white;

Their names I will never strike off the roll of the living.

Audience:

Hear, you who have ears to hear, what the Spirit says to the churches!

Second Reader:

To the angel of the church at Philadelphia write:

I know all your ways;

I have set before you an open door which no one can shut.

Your strength, I know, is small,

Yet you have observed my commands and have not disowned my name.

Because you have kept my command and stood fast,

I will also keep you from the ordeal that is to fall on the whole world.

I am coming soon;

Hold fast what you have, and let no one rob you of your crown.

Children’s Choir:

Those who are victorious I will write the name of my God upon them,

And the name of the city of my God,

That new Jerusalem which is coming down out of heaven from my God,

And my own new name.

Audience:

Hear, you who have ears to hear, what the

Spirit says to the churches!

First Reader:

To the angel of the church at Laodicea write:

I know all your ways; you are neither hot nor cold!

How I wish you were either hot or cold!

But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold,

I will spit you out of my mouth.

You say, ‘How rich I am! And how well I have done!

I have everything I want in the world!’

In fact, though you do not know it,

you are the most pitiful wretch, poor, blind and naked.

Children’s Choir:

To those who are victorious I will grant a place on my throne,

As I myself was victorious and sat down with my father on his throne.

Audience:

Hear, you who have ears to hear, what the

Spirit says to the churches!

Hymn: “The Church Has One Foundation”

Note: During the singing of the hymn-anthem, young people carry paper banners emblazoned with the names of patriots, prophets, and friends within the congregation. These banners are hung at various points in the sanctuary as slides bathe the walls with full-face photos of the congregation’s diverse membership.

The Portents

First Reader:

At once I was caught up by the Spirit.

There in heaven stood a throne,

And on the throne sat one whose appearance was like

The gleam of jasper and cornelian.

In a circle about this throne were twenty-four other thrones,

And on them sat twenty-four elders wearing crowns of gold.

From the throne went out flashes of lightning and peals of thunder.

Burning before the throne were seven flaming torches,

And in front of it stretched what seemed a sea of glass,

Like a sheet of ice.

The twenty-four elders fall down

Before the One who sits on the throne

And worship him who lives for ever and ever;

And as they lay their crowns before the throne they cry:

Audience:

Thou art worthy, O Lord our God,

To receive glory and honor and power,

Because thou didst create all things;

By thy will they were created, and have their being!

Second Reader:

After this I looked and saw a vast throng,

Which no one could count,

From every nation, of all tribes, peoples, and languages,

Standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.

They were robed in white and had palms in their hands,

And they shouted together:

Audience:

Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom,

Thanksgiving and honor, power and might,

Be to our God for ever and ever! Amen!

First Reader:

Then one of the elders turned to me and said,

Audience:

These that are robed in white

Are those who have passed through the great ordeal;

They have washed their robes and made them white

In the blood of the Lamb.

That is why they stand before the throne

And minister to him day and night in his temple;

And he who sits on the throne will dwell with them.

They shall never again feel hunger or thirst,

The sun shall not beat on them nor any scorching heat,

Because the Lamb will be their shepherd

And will guide them to the springs of the water of life;

And God will wipe all tears from their eyes.

Second Reader:

Next appeared a great portent in heaven,

A woman robed with the sun, beneath her feet the moon,

And on her head a crown of twelve stars.

She was pregnant, and in the anguish of her labor

She cried out to be delivered.

Then a second portent appeared in heaven:

A great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns;

And with his tail he swept down a third of the stars in the sky and flung them to the earth.

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth,

So that when her child was born he might devour it.

She gave birth to a male child,

Who is destined to rule all nations with an iron rod.

But her child was snatched up to God and his throne;

And the woman herself fled into the wilds.

Audience:

At this the dragon grew furious with the woman,

And went off to wage war on the rest of her offspring,

That is, on those who keep God’s commandments

And maintain their testimony to Jesus.

First Reader:

Then out of the sea I saw a beast rising.

It had ten horns and seven heads.

Men worshiped the dragon because he had conferred his authority

Upon the beast and they worshiped the beast also.

It was also allowed to wage war on God’s people and to defeat them,

And was granted authority over every tribe and people,

Language and nation.

All on earth will worship it,

Except those whose names the Lamb that was slain

Keeps in the roll of the living,

Written there since the world was made.

Then I saw another beast, which came up out of the earth;

It had two horns like a lamb’s but spoke like a dragon.

It was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast,

So that it could cause all who would not worship the image to be put to death.

Audience:

Moreover, it caused everyone,

Great and small, rich and poor, slave and free,

To be branded with a mark on his right hand or forehead,

And no one was allowed to buy or sell

Unless he bore this beast’s mark, either name or number.

Second Reader:

Then I saw an angel flying in mid-heaven,

With an eternal gospel to proclaim to those on earth,

To every nation and tribe, language and people.

He cried in a loud voice,

Audience:

Fear God and pay homage;

For the hour of his judgment has come!

Worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the water-springs!

First Reader:

Then another angel, a second, followed, and he cried,

Audience:

Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great,

She who has made all nations drink the fierce wine of her fornication.

Second Reader:

Yet a third angel followed, crying out loud,

Audience:

Whoever worships the beast and its image

And receives its mark on his forehead or hand,

He shall drink the wine of God’s wrath

Poured undiluted into the cup of his vengeance.

And there will be no respite day or night

For those who worship the beast and its image

Or receive the mark of its name.

First Reader:

Here the fortitude of God’s people has its place—

In keeping God’s commands and remaining loyal to Jesus.

Second Reader:

And then I saw a woman mounted on a scarlet beast

Which was covered with blasphemous names

And had seven heads and ten horns.

The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet

And bedizened with gold and jewels and pearls.

In her hand she held a gold cup,

Full of obscenities and the foulness of her fornication;

And written on her forehead was a name with a secret meaning:

Babylon the great, the mother of whores and of every obscenity on earth.

The woman, I saw, was drunk with the blood of God’s people

And with the blood of those who had borne their testimony to Jesus.

The angel said to me,

Audience:

The ten horns you saw are ten kings

Who will confer their power and authority upon the beast.

They will wage war upon the Lamb, but the Lamb will defeat them,

For he is Lord of lords and King of kings,

And his victory will be shared by his followers,

Called chosen and faithful.

Note: Prior to the singing of the hymn-anthem, slides are projected on the walls to depict modern expressions of Babylonian powers and remnant communities. Drawings of the manipulative beasts and dragons created by the congregation’s children are interspersed with drawings and magazine pictures selected by the children which communicate both hope and despair:

A bell is tolled

Hymn: “For all the Saints”

The Judgment

First Reader:

After this I saw another angel coming down out of heaven;

He came with great authority and the earth was lit up with his splendor.

Then in a mighty voice he proclaimed,

Audience:

Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!

She has become a dwelling for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit,

For every foul and loathsome bird.

For all nations have drunk deep

Of the fierce wine of her fornication.

Second Reader:

The merchants of the earth also will weep and mourn for her,

Because no one any longer buys their cargoes,

Cargoes of gold and silver, jewels and pearls,

Cloths of purple and scarlet, silks and fine linens,

Wine, oil, flour, wheat, chariots, slaves, and the lives of men.

First Reader:

Then I saw the beast was taken prisoner,

And so was the false prophet who had worked miracles in its presence

And deluded those that had received the mark of the beast

And worshiped its image.

The two of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire

With its sulfurous flames.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key of the abyss

And a great chain in his hands.

He seized the dragon, that serpent of old, the Devil or Satan,

And chained him up for a thousand years;

He threw him into the abyss, shutting and sealing it over him,

So that he might seduce the nations no more.

Second Reader:

Then I saw a great white throne, and the One who sat upon it;

From his presence earth and heaven vanished away,

And no place was left for them.

I could see the dead, great and small, standing before the throne;

And the books were opened.

Then another book was opened, the roll of the living.

From what was written in these books the dead were judged
Upon the record of their deeds.

The sea gave up its dead,

And Death and Hades gave up the dead in their keeping;

They were judged, each man on the record of his deeds.

Then Death and Hades were flung into the lake of fire.

And into it were flung any whose names were not to be found

In the roll of the living.

First Reader:

After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a vast throng in heaven;
And they were shouting:

Audience:

Alleluia! Victory and glory and power belong to our God,

For true and just are his judgments!

He has condemned the earth with her fornication,

And has avenged upon her the blood of his servants.

Second Reader:

Again, I heard what sounded like a vast crowd,

Like the noise of rushing water and deep roars of thunder, and they cried:

Audience:

Alleluia! The Lord our God, sovereign over all,

Has entered on his reign!

Exalt and shout for joy and do him homage,

For the wedding of the Lamb has come!

His bride has made herself ready,

And for her dress she has been given fine linen, clean and shining.

Offertory

Note: A brass ensemble plays an offertory of sonorous cadence by way of expanding the theme of judgment. Visuals include various symbols of justice/judgment: sword, scales, muse, restrained serpent.

The Hope

First Reader:

Then one of the seven angels spoke unto me and said,

Audience:

Come, and I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.

Second Reader:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth,

For the first heaven and the first earth had vanished,

And there was no longer any sea.

I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming out of heaven from God,

Made ready like a bride adorned for her husband.

I heard a loud voice proclaiming from the throne:

Audience:

Now at last God has his dwelling among men!

He will dwell among them and they shall be his people,

And God himself will be with them.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes;

There shall be an end to death, and to mourning and crying and pain;

For the old order has passed away!

First Reader:

Then he who sat on the throne said,

Audience:

Behold! I am making all things new!

Second Reader:

I saw no temple in the city,

For its temple was the sovereign Lord God and the Lamb.

The gates of the city shall never be shut by day—

And there will be no night.

Then he showed me the river of the water of life.

On either side of the river stood a tree of life,

Which yields twelve crops of fruit,

One for each month of the year.

The leaves of the trees serve for the healing of nations,

And every accursed thing shall disappear.

Audience:

There shall be no more night,

Nor will they need the light of lamp or sun,

For the Lord God will give them light;

And they shall reign for evermore.

First Reader:

Then I looked, and on Mount Zion stood the Lamb,

And with him were a hundred and forty-four thousand

Who had his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.

I heard a sound from heaven like the noise of rushing water;

It was the sound of harpers playing on their harps.

There before the throne they were singing a new song.

That song no one could learn

Except the hundred and forty-four thousand,

Who alone from the whole world had been ransomed.

They were singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.

Hymn: “Worthy, Worthy Is the Lamb!”

Note: As the congregation stands to join the choir for the singing of the final hymn, the children’s pictures of hope appear on the chancel walls once again, including dolls, family, congregation, community, sky, sun, rainbow.

Second Reader:

I, Jesus, have sent my angel to you

With this testimony for the churches.

Happy are those who wash their robes clean!

They will have the right to the tree of life

And will enter by the gates of the city.

Readers:

Come! say the Spirit and the bride.

Audience:

Come! let each hearer reply.

Readers:

Come forward, you who are thirsty;

Audience:

Accept the water of life, a free gift to all

Who desire it.

Readers:

He who gives this testimony speaks, Yes, I

am coming soon.

Audience:

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Readers:

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.

Audience:

Amen.

Note: Worshipers are invited to remain in the sanctuary following the organ postlude, and to view the seven candlesticks with sculptors Alan Collins and students.

Benediction

Organ Postlude

 

Charles W. Teel, Jr. was professor of Christian ethics in the School of Religion, La Sierra University, Riverside He received an MTh from Harvard University and a PhD from Boston University in social ethics.

Photo by Mark Rasmuson on Unsplash

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