The Throne, the River and the City
The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend Albert Bogle, preached today in front of Her Majesty the Queen at Glasgow Cathedral.
Below is a copy of the sermon by Mr Bogle.
The Throne, the River and the City
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street in the city.”
I would like to invite you to join with me in reflecting upon the significance of three metaphors found in this reading from Revelation 22:1, the Lamb upon the Throne, the City and the River.
As we celebrate together the Jubilee Year, I hope we will draw meaning and inspiration for our lives and our communities from these metaphors in John’s vision.
Wisdom of the Ages: In times of great change and reordering of societies those who are in leadership require a wisdom that goes beyond their years. They require knowledge that allows change to be rooted in justice and integrity. Successful leaders inevitably will have inner spiritual resources that sustain and strengthen them giving them courage to lead.
The gift of our Queen: Of all the nations in the world we in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth have been blessed, by the unstinting dedication of Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
During these past 60-years of unprecedented change Her Majesty has brought the continuity and insight of a wise and gifted Monarch acting as counsellor and confidant to many a Prime Minister and world leader.
Source of strength, the most valuable thing in the world: At the Coronation of Her Majesty, the then Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland presented Her Majesty with a copy of the Bible, while the Archbishop of Canterbury said these words,
“We present you with this Book the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; this is the Royal Law; these are the lively Oracles of God.”
Here lies the source of wisdom that has sustained Her Majesty to serve the peoples of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth all these years.
To be crowned Queen is to believe that you have been called of God to this high and noble Office, with it comes a promise of dedication and commitment to God and the People. It is a covenant for life.
Covenant: The word covenant is an ancient word. Its roots are in the Old Testament. To make a covenant is to pursue the welfare of the promise you have made even if it is of a costly nature to self. It is to dedicate one’s self to the promise.
Archbishop Rowan Williams last month at St Paul’s paraphrasing some of the Queen’s Coronation vows said it was as if she was saying,
“I have no goals that are not the goals of this community; I have no well-being, no happiness that is not the well-being of the community. What makes me content or happy is what makes for the good of this particular part of the human family.”
The purpose of the Queen’s life and example: In many ways, statements like these are to speak the language of heaven. It is to reflect something of the way God feels about his creation. It is to hear God say, “I am for you.” And in turn, be ready to bring heaven into our everyday communities.
It is to seek to establish a part of heaven on earth in the way that the Celtic monks spoke of their monasteries as “Colonies of Heaven.”
So the Throne speaks to us of the power of service that comes through sacrifice and points the Nation to the joy of living life in service to each other.
The Gospel Paradox: The Lamb upon the Throne is the great gospel paradox of power. He who would be great among you must be the servant of all. The Lamb is the one who gives his life as a ransom for many. Thus is, “worthy to receive honour and power and glory.”
Hanging over the Communion table in this Cathedral is a cross and if you look closely at the heart of this cross there is a Lamb being crucified. Here the cross is being depicted as a throne.
So what of the City: So what of the city? The Bible begins the creativity of God in a Garden and concludes it in a city. Perhaps we need to pay more attention to our cities. They need rivers of healing running through their streets.
These words from the Book of Revelation may seem esoteric and far removed from the lives of 21st century people yet they are contemporary enough to have influenced a generation that is in the search of a homeland; a city “where the streets have no names” to quote the lyrics of U2.
Deep down in the human heart there is a yearning for something we have lost but never had. A feeling of being homesick, the writer of Hebrews describes it as “Looking for the city that is to come,” a community of hope and acceptance.
Our cities, for many are places of violence and inequality; where the purpose of economy seems to serve the few at the expense of the many.
But here is a city where healing and harmony flows through the streets from the throne. So where is the source of the river? The source is the very Throne of God. It is the place of meekness and majesty; the place of sacrifice and service.
Finding a connection: It is on occasions like that our eyes are lifted towards things that are beyond the material; to that which is spiritual and enriching; to reflect upon the healing nature of service through sacrifice. We come here to this magnificent Cathedral to be inspired; to be renewed; we come to give thanks for the heritage and gift that Elizabeth, our Queen, has offered us, in the example of “a life lived in sacrifice to God and the communities of Commonwealth and Nation.” We have come to think of the things that, in the words of Apostle Paul: are noble, true and praiseworthy; to change our cities into communities of “Jubilee Hope.”
Now what of the River: So what of this river that flows from the throne in the middle of the street of the great city? Well the Psalmist reminds us “there is a river that makes glad the city of God.” All cities have their rivers.
There is no city that could be prouder of its river than Glasgow. The Clyde has been the source of wealth and life for the inhabitants of this great city from the days of St Mungo to our present time.
In this river some of the first Christians in Glasgow were baptised; in this river some of the great ships that have touched a thousand ports have been launched; this river has brought great joy.
Here in this text we are connecting with the source of joy in the City of God. The source of joy is the values that flow out of the river into the lives of the people. The psalmist speaks of justice flowing like a river and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. It is such qualities of life that make glad the people of God.
Summary: As we celebrate this, Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee, perhaps we might let the wisdom from the “most valuable book in the world” speak to our hearts, by allowing the Lamb upon the throne to speak of the forgiveness of sins and the joy of service.
By allowing the Old Testament concept of Jubilee speak to us in making justice for the poor a hallmark of our Nation. In doing such things may this become the greatest lasting tribute to a Godly Monarch and her Throne.