At the close of the Apostolic age, John wrote the Book of Revelation, a book full of liturgical imagery.
Consider the parallels in John’s vision in chapter four to the experience of Moses on Sinai:
- Exodus 19.10 – “they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.”
Revelation 4.3, 6 – “And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald… before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.”
- Moses on Sinai on the Sabbath
John’s vision on the Lord’s Day
- The liturgy of the Jews
The liturgy of the Church
Revelation chapters four and five depict a ceremony very similar to the celebration of the Eucharist in the early church.
Consider how the layout of the churches corresponded to the Temple:
- Narthex = Court of the Gentiles/unbaptized and penitents
- Nave = Court of the Jews/body of worshipers
- Choir = Holy Place/ministers
- Chancel = Holy of Holies/Eucharist
- Rood screen or Iconostasis separated the chancel from the choir
The rood screen was seen as the division between the present and the eternal. “When thou beholdest the curtains drawn up, then imagine that the Heavens are let down from above, and that the Angels are descending!” (John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians)
There is a door in the rood screen that is only opened to administer the Sacrament. When that door is opened, the congregation has full view of the altar and the elements. “After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door!… and lo, a throne stood in heaven… Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads… and before the throne burn seven torches of fire… and before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.” (Revelation 4.1-6) This describes a scene that would have been familiar to the early church, the Eastern Orthodox church, the Anglican church and many Western European churches. As you can see in the illustration above, the altar is in the chancel surrounded by the seats of the bishop and clergy in the curve of the wall. It could also make sense for the bapstismal font to be located there in the chancel as well to correspond to the sea of glass.
Here’s another interesting bit. The Gospel book was given great reverence in the early church and was placed on the altar with a cross. John records, “And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures.” (Revelation 4.6) From earliest times, the lion, the ox, the man and the eagle have represented the four Evangelists. The Gospel is there at the altar, giving “glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever” (v. 9) “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (5.6) That clearly represents the human nature of our Lord with his sevenfold grace. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (5.12) The sacrificial image of Christ represents his continual intercession. All around this image of sacrifice is the liturgical worship of heaven.
- Each elder “each holding a harp” (5.8) – liturgical worship involves instruments
- “with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (5.8) and “he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne” (8.3) – liturgical worship involves incense. [Note: The incense is not a symbol for prayer. The incense is offered in combination with the prayers. ]
- “singing” (4.10) – liturgical worship involves singing, accompanying the instruments
- “fall down before him” (4.10) – liturgical worship involves the body
The hymn “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” has been a part of the Eucharist liturgy from the very beginning of the church.
Revelation is a treasure of liturgical worship, directing the Church in every age to rightly worship our Lord.