Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus who was and is and is to come, Amen.
Now things are getting good. After a couple weeks of warmup now finally, we’re getting into the interesting stuff, the four horsemen of the apocalypse. If there’s an image that most people can readily conjure from the book of Revelation, it’s this one. Four riders, mounted on four distinctly colored horses, set loose in the world to wreak havoc and destruction.
This is the stuff of bad dreams and horror movies. This is why we don’t read this book because it’s just too unsettling, too threatening. We’re afraid of this kind of judgment. Sudden. Violent. Terrifying. It’s almost better to pretend it’s not there. Am I right?
On the last record he worked on before he died, Johnny Cash recorded a beautiful and haunting song, called “The Man Comes Around.” The song concludes with cash speaking verse, 8 of chapter six, in his deep and gravely voice and it’s enough to give you the willies.
I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him…
The way John shares his vision of these horses and their riders is so unsettling because it seems as though they’re coming for you!
And they are. Maybe they already have.
The thing about these horsemen, and the threats that they pose, well they’re nothing new. Frankly, they’re nothing we even have to wait for. The horsemen and the threats they pose well they’re already here. Well maybe not literally, I haven’t seen four horsemen wandering around the streets of Minneapolis, but the danger they represent, well we can see that looming all around us.
One nation, one tribe, one people threaten another. A people’s well being and security is defined and built over against another’s. We build walls and armies to keep us safe, but the white horse comes. The rider with a crown always comes to conquer. What we build cannot stand forever.
Far too often, the peace we know is simply the absence of conflict. In author of Revelation’s day, the Roman Empire governed with brutality, it’s rigid rule created the possibility for the Pax Romana, the peace of the empire. The Pax Romana allowed trade to flourish, infrastructure to be built and the empire to grow ever stronger. But the Red horse inevitably comes. He strips away the false peace revealing the subjugation and oppression of people that quelled the conflict at least for a time. The Red Rider shows the enmity we have for one another and the ways in which we have ignored the suffering of so many for so long. Even the great things we build cannot stand forever.
Pensions and rainy day funds. Checking accounts and credit limits. Paychecks and dividends. If we can just get enough maybe then we’ll be safe and secure. But black horse comes, with his rider bearing scales showing us that not even the strength of our markets and portfolios will keep us safe. When it costs more than a days wage just to buy bread, this horseman shows us that we can’t buy our security. We can’t finance our future, even our wealth will not stand.
Then, of course, there’s death and his pale green horse. Intellectually we know this is the one we can’t escape and yet understandably we work so hard to avoid. It isn’t hard to see that the fourth horseman is all around us. Disease threatens us and those we love at every turn. Accidents and the catastrophic claim our beloved long before we’re ready to say goodbye. Against the pale green horse and its rider, nothing and no one can stand.
It’s pretty bleak. It could cause us to despair, even lose hope.
At the end of chapter six, in a part that wasn’t included in our reading for today, you have people crying out in response to these terrible visions and calamity that the horsemen bring and they say, “who is able to stand?”
Who can withstand the trials and tribulations, the judgment that the horsemen bring?
Who can endure?
After this, I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
“Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
In the midst of some really difficult and downright terrifying images, today’s vision from the book of Revelation offers to you and me a profoundly simple truth.
Nothing we build will last forever. The things we are tempted to put our trust in, government, military might, wealth, the strength of our bodies, the sharpness of our minds – these are temporary.
But God and the lamb, Jesus Christ, who lived, suffered and died as one of us, gives to you and to me the robe of everlasting life. You and I were are clothed with God’s own life so that whatever might happen to us, we know, we trust, we believe that we can endure.
We endure not because of our own strength or fortitude but because of the unwavering faithfulness of God.
We have confidence in the present and hope for the future because today and tomorrow we belong to God.
You will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike you, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be your shepherd, and he will guide you to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from your eyes.”