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Visions of Hope

[Note: This sermon was originally preached at the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. It follows the lectionary in regard to the lamb being the shepherd (Rev 7 and John 10), in particular reference to the power of sacrifice to bring hope, and the uniqueness of Christ's sacrifice. The illustrations of song and heroism from the War can be adapted to introduce the sacrifice of Christ

The original introduction is retained below in brackets and small type followed by an alternative introduction for use in later years.]

[In this Easter season of hope it so happens that on the day when we remember the end of the war in Europe, 50 years ago tomorrow, the readings for the day give us a vision of Christ as the shepherd of a flock which unites the people of all nations. It is a message of hope because it is a promise of peace and wholeness -- God will wipe away every tear from their eyes -- there will be victory over the enemies of humankind.

Those of us who remember those times still know the songs of hope for peace and victory that used to be sung during the war:- [play tape of Vera Lynn]

There'll be blue birds over, the white cliffs of Dover,
tomorrow, just you wait and see.
There'll be love and laughter, and peace ever after,
tomorrow, just you wait and see..
The Shepherd will tend his sheep.
The Valley will bloom again.

Jimmy will ...

These songs were sung in the midst of a titanic struggle, when people were offered only blood and sweat and tears. There were times of great fear when the forces of darkness seemed so strong. Everyone knew that the love and laughter for which they hoped and prayed would come only with victory. There was no easy way. The way to victory and peace was through loyalty, discipline and sacrifice. (Introduce photo of a war hero related to a member of the congregation and tell a little of his story ending with his death as he saved the lives of his crew.)]

During World War II there was a popular song sung by Vera Lynn, There'll be blue birds over, the white cliffs of Dover, tomorrow, just you wait and see. There'll be love and laughter, and peace ever after,... The visions of victory and peace in the Book of Revelation have similar images. She even sang of the Shepherd tending his sheep which might also remind us of the Good Shepherd who in Scripture is also the Lamb of God: The Shepherd will tend his sheep. The Valley will bloom again. Those visions of hope which many of us now in retirement can remember from our childhood, or perhaps from the days of youthful service which we recalled last week on ANZAC Day, were vision of hope fulfilled only after a gigantic struggle with much sacrifice.

Victory through sacrifice

Do you imagine that the visions of peace and victory in the Bible came to us without suffering and sacrifice? When all around the throne of God they are seen singing

they praised God and one they called the Lamb! The Lamb of God.

And why was he called the Lamb? Why did John the Baptist exclaim as he watched Jesus walk by `Look, here is the Lamb of God'? [John 1:29,36]. The day before --

He is the one who offered his life, like the lambs sacrificed on the alter in the old temple worship to take away the sins of the people. He was the great high priest who offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

The victory that Jesus won through sacrifice was strange and unexpected. Even his closest friends and disciples did not realize until after he his death, that it was necessary for the Messiah to die. It was when they met the risen Lord that they learned how the prophecy about the suffering servant applied to the one who was to establish the kingdom of God.

The later visions of Christ in glory show him as the great victor and ruler over all. John the Divine, introducing his vision or revelation, sent his greeting to the churches saying

In the great vision of peace at the end of the revelation there is `a new earth', `a new Jerusalem', in which is celebrated victory by a ruler who has conquered the enemies of humankind. Peace comes as a result of his victory. In the lesson from Revelation set for next week we read:

For all nations

We know that it was a victory won at great cost. There was no other way than the way of sacrifice for Jesus, just as there was no other way to peace in 1945 than through victory won at great cost in which many gave their lives. Unfortunately it is all too easy link the nobility of sacrifice with nationalistic or racial sentiments which divide humanity and justify great crimes. There are times when many benefit from the sacrifice of others. There are other times when the highest claims are made for lowest of motives. Base claims and distortions of noble sentiments divide humanity, bringing death and destruction, sometimes on a huge scale. There was an enormous difference in the victory of Christ. He brought the whole destructive force to bear upon himself, not causing anyone else to suffer. We need to be very careful when we use the language of sacrifice. Yet Jesus himself saw that it was within human capacity to sacrifice one's life. He said

Paul understood the sacrifice of Christ to be more than the sacrifice that might be made for friends and family:

That is, Jesus, being God with us, would know in himself the alienation of people from God, yet he gave his life when we were separated, alienated from God, even his enemies. The benefits of Christ's sacrifice are undeserved, and not limited to members of one's own family, tribe or nation. That is different from the victory won in human warfare when men die in the defence of those they love, their family, tribe or nation. But Christ died even for his enemies. After Christ's victory we find him acknowledged and praised by people of all nations:

They are gathered into one flock because they belong to the one shepherd. The one who was called the Lamb, because of his sacrifice, he is now the Shepherd who gathers them. Quoting the prophecies that are now fulfilled, John the Divine says:

[Compare:

See it is the Lamb, the one sacrificed, now on the throne ruling the kingdom, who will be the shepherd who will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

How do we receive the benefits?

But that is not all. Who are they of whom he speaks? It is the very question that came to John in his vision.

That kind of language about the blood of the lamb is not very popular today. Indeed the visionary language of the Book of Revelation is very strange to most people and its message tends to be neglected and left to a few extremists in peculiar cults. That is a pity, because the message behind the strange symbols is still significant. But, if we are to understand it, we do need to be prepared to consider the power of symbols and to deal with mysteries.

To be washed in the blood of the Lamb means to be cleansed by the power of life in his sacrifice. To share in the blood of Christ is to share in his life. Blood was important in the religion of the Old Testament because they believed that life or the life giving spirit was in the blood:

That is why when we share in the blood of Christ we share in his life. That is what he offered to the disciples at the Last Supper and to us when we share his life in communion:

So all who share in the gift of new life, of life in the new covenant in his blood, receive the benefits of his victory and will gladly worship him, the great shepherd: the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them. He said to his disciples in the gospel reading for today

There is a question of loyalty, of hearing the voice of the shepherd and recognizing him: My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. Then to all who do he is able to say: I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. Then they will know him as he is and sing:

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