I love music! I can’t think of a single person I know who doesn’t. Even my daughter Gloria, when she was only one year old, loved to sing, and sung loudly and passionately and well (for a one-year old.) She liked the Gloria at the end of the Holy Communion service, as well as “Gloria” by Them and the Shadows of Night. One of her favorites was the Agnus Dei. Frequently, she reminds me of Psalm 8: “Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants, you have ordained praise.” (20 month-old Christian also now loves music and is learning to dance to it!)
Now that I’ve discovered Internet radio and Pandora.com, I can even listen to a steady stream of music that makes life more joyful. Via the Internet, I recently heard one of the most glorious musical performance I’ve ever experienced: the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet performing Pachelbel “Loose” Canon, on Youtube!
Music is such an important part of our lives, but apart from the glory and power of God, I can’t imagine why there should even be any music. In evolutionary terms, it seems, well, superfluous, like a waste of time. Or, if seen in utilitarian terms, which is all evolution can understand, then the question is “Why music? Why does music enhance productivity?” There’s no chance in the world that evolution would produce music by chance: it would provide no evolutionary advantage until much, much later and couldn’t be passed on to the next generations.
Why music? Because God is glorious and powerful – and beautiful. Man was created to make music and sing because he was made in the image of God and was created to respond to the grace of God in his life. And whenever we receive the good gifts of God, it ought to make us want to break out in song and music!
For this reason, the book of Revelation is filled with songs and music. After God and His glory or power or holiness or justice or beauty is revealed, the happy inhabitants of heaven begin to sing. And so should we.
Why shouldn’t we sing? In chapter 15 of Revelation, we learn that the True Heavenly Temple has been opened to men! Once again, I think John is talking about something that has largely already happened. When Christ ascended into heaven, Paradise was re-opened for business and man was allowed to re-enter Eden. Having been kicked out of the Garden in Genesis 3, he is allowed back in, in Luke 24 and Acts 1, as well as in the books of Hebrews and Revelation.
This great reason for singing is the same great reason provided in slow motion by the writer of Hebrews. The book of Hebrews is describing the coming of the New Covenant and its superiority to the Old Covenant, and the opening of heaven, the True Temple, to man. In fact, the entire New Covenant (New Testament) is basically doing nothing but describing the New Covenant, God’s new way of relating to mankind through Jesus Christ, both God and man.
The writer of Hebrews begins by describing how the New Covenant is put into effect by the Son of God, and not angels, like the Old Covenant. He writes of how the Old Testament saints never achieved the Rest of God completely, but how now in Christ we may. Christ is a perfect high priest, in contrast to the high priests of the Old Covenant who were themselves sinful and blemished. Jesus is the King of Righteousness, as well as the High Priest, and this High Priest has cleansed man and made him ready to enter the true Temple not made with hands. He is the perfect sacrifice, the spotless Lamb of God, as seen in Revelation, and His sacrifice takes away the sins of the world, while the blood of bulls and goats could not take away even one sin of one man. In acting as the perfect High Priest and Sacrifice, Christ has opened the true and perfect Temple, heaven.
If this isn’t a reason to sing, as in Revelation, then I don’t know what is! Maybe if we saw the truly revolutionary and cataclysmic nature of the coming of the New Covenant and the overturning and destruction of the Old Word and Covenant, we would understand Revelation better; we would see its relevance better; and we would sing much better (and much more!)
St. John is speaking of this same glorious and beautiful event, the opening of heaven to man, the perfect event that the Song of Moses (Exodus 15) and the Old Covenant could only sing of in anticipation and with a little foretaste. Moses and the children of Israel sang because they had been delivered from the hand of their enemies – because of the Exodus out of the land of slavery. And this is why the inhabitants of heaven sing: they have been delivered from Satan and sin and death and have left the land of slavery and entered into the true Promised Land of Heaven, which is God’s presence.
Immediately after Moses’ song of Eucharist or thanksgiving, the Israelites are given the Bread of Heaven, the manna, in Exodus 16. In Exodus 17, they are given the Living Water, and in Exodus 19 they come to Mount Sinai. When the people come to Mount Sinai, it is as if they have come to the Mount Zion of Hebrews 12, which is superior to the Mount Sinai of the Old Covenant. In Revelation, as in Exodus 19, there are thunderings and lightnings and a great cloud and the sound of the trumpet and the Mount is completely in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. In Exodus 19, the people – even the priests – are not allowed to come near to God, lest they die, while here in Revelation 15 no one is able to enter the Temple until the seven plagues are completed.
In the book of Revelation, and right here in Revelation 15, we are seeing the inauguration of the New Covenant. We are seeing the opening of the gates of heaven, and we are seeing the undoing of the Fall. The Angel of the Lord placed in the Garden in Genesis 3 is undone by the Angel of the Lord, the Second Adam, who was crucified and resurrected in a garden, just as the first Adam had been born and sentenced to death in the Garden.
What we are seeing in Revelation 15 is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Second Adam and Greater Moses. What we are experiencing is our deliverance into the Promised Land and Temple of Heaven through the Sacrifice of the Lamb and the Ministry of the Great High Priest.
If our response to the book of Revelation, to the Revelation of Jesus Christ in our lives isn’t to sing, then either we haven’t understood the New Song of Heaven or the reason for singing.
You and I and the company of heaven are the new priestly choir of the new Temple. So take up your harps of God – and sing!
Prayer: Great and marvelous are Your works,
Lord God Almighty!
Just and true are Your ways,
O King of the saints!
Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- Compile a list of favorite hymns or spiritual songs to be read to sing throughout the day – and every day.
- Gather together a choir to sing God’s praises.
- Remind yourself of your Exodus from the land of slavery and your membership in heaven slowly throughout the day, remembering the glories of the New Covenant in Christ in a series of brief meditations.
Resolution: I resolve to spend some time today singing God’s praises.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson