The Final Gathering Together
It could be said that if the first book of the Bible is about Paradise lost, then the last book is about Paradise regained. The worship taking place in God’s Kingdom described in the book of Revelation, shows that hostility between animals is at an end; and animals unite with humans and angels in offering reverence to a common Creator.
We see four living creatures leading the worship in Revelation, Chapters 4 and 5. These representatives of the animal world are a wild mammal (a lion), a domestic mammal (an ox), a primate (an animal with the face of a human) and a bird (an eagle). Nature is clearly represented offering praise and honour to its Creator, as it has always done.
John’s vision here must not be regarded as just a future apocalyptic hope, bearing little relation to present day reality. If we look backwards from this image, we see the animal creation as already offering glory to God by its very existence. In declaring the imminence of God’s perfected Kingdom, the New Testament writers were concerned with doing God’s will now and, through faith, they could already see God’s Kingdom come, with His will being done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.
Through faith, we can see the heavenly worship of the animals already taking place, and with that faith we can sing the hymn of St Francis:
“All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia, Alleluia . . . “
In God’s Revelation to John, the four living creatures are always represented as being near to the throne, the symbol of God’s presence; and near the Lamb, the symbol of Christ Jesus. The animals lead the worship in the first of several doxologies in Chapters 4 and 5. “Day and night they never stop saying:
‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.'” (Revelation 4 v 8)
The main impulse of their worship is the everlastingness of God – “who was and is and is to come”. This is especially appropriate coming from them, as they have a long history of evolution under God’s authority, whereas humans in comparison are new-comers. The animals’ past seems to give them confidence for their future in the hands of Him “who is to come”.
In Paradise regained the animals return to the position of honour which they had at the beginning of the Bible, under the guardianship of man in his state of innocence and before he had betrayed his trust.
The heavenly worship is not only led by the animals, but the doxologies they sing also honour God both as Creator and Redeemer:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.” (Revelation 4 v 11)
“You are worthy . . .
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased
men for God. “ (Revelation 5 v 9)
As if to make extra sure that the God of Creation and the Christ of Redemption are worshipped as one and the same God, the last doxology brings the two together:
“To Him who sits on the throne and to
be praise and honour and glory and power,
for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5 v 13)
This is the only place in the New Testament where Christ is adored in complete equality with God the Creator. Creation and Redemption are gathered together; and both heaven and earth are ‘filled with the glory of God’.
The final gathering together represents the uniting of all created beings in the worship of God.
Firstly, there is the uniting of widely different living creatures, at peace and in harmony with each other, offering praise to their Creator.
Secondly, there is no resentment by the 24 elders that they themselves are not leading the worship, and in their act of praise they acknowledge that God created all things, so it is entirely appropriate that four of the living creatures made by Him should lead the heavenly worship.
Whether we think of the elders being made up of the 12 Patriarchs and 12 Apostles, or simply of the united Church gathered around Christ, its head, it would seem that these also represent a gathering together.
It is interesting to note that it is not until the Lamb appears, that these two united choirs of animals and humans join forces. Christ Jesus, Himself in the form of a lamb, gathers them together and in Him they find their unity.
Also worth noting is the fact that each one has a bowl full of incense representing the prayers of the Church.
And thirdly, angelic beings add their worship to that of animals and humans in praise of the sacrificial Lamb; and “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” (Revelation 5 v 13-14) combine to give equal honour to God and the Lamb. The living creatures then have the privilege of adding their distinctive “Amen”, which is an acknowledgment that in Jesus Christ, Himself called the “Amen” by the writer of the Apocalypse, the promises of God are fulfilled. “And God made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1 v 9-10).
We see here the final and complete gathering together of all creation. All is in order and perfection. Christ’s love has done its work. In His words from the Cross, “It is accomplished” (John 19 v 30). In the words of Origen, “And to put the matter plainly, the principle of all evils is dispersion, but the principle of all good is drawing together and reduction from disordered multitudes to singleness”.
Bringing Animals Into Church
We are told that back in the 13th century, as Francis prayed before the painted crucifix in the tiny derelict church of San Damiano, close to Assisi, it seemed to him that the image of Christ was gently speaking: “Francis, do you not see that my house is being damaged? Go and repair it for me” (see video clip ). Taking Christ’s command literally, Francis began to repair the building. Only later did he realise that ‘repairing the church’ had spiritual meanings as well, for in his corrupt age, the Christian Church, as well as the secular world, had devoted itself to the worship of wealth and power. Interestingly, a later scene in the film from which this video clip was taken, shows Francis, having fulfilled his dream in repairing the little church, holding a service there, welcoming in the poor and the outcasts of society – and the animals! Lambs, chickens, doves and quacking ducks are tunefully joining in the worship!! (see here)
It must also be said that today’s Church has been damaged by its reluctance to preach the true value of animals as God’s creatures, quite apart from their use to humans; thereby losing many caring souls to other faiths, or to no faith at all. Organising animal thanksgiving services (see ‘Part Two’ next week), and particularly services where non-human creatures can be brought into the church and blessed, is one way of repairing a little of that damage; a chance to proclaim God’s love for all Creation, reconciled to Himself through Christ, “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him (Christ) and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven by making peace through His blood shed on the Cross” (Colossians 1 v 19).
‘Part Two’ will follow shortly! Thank you for reading and following our blog! Your comments are always welcome! ~Ros