The liturgy of the nations

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Fra Angelico, “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” (c. 1423-4)

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12)

Here is what Anglican theologian Joseph Mangina writes about this “polyglot, cosmopolitan crowd” that worships God in heaven:

In Rev. 4-5, we saw the heavenly worship around the divine throne continually expanding, from the cherubim and elders to countless angels to “every creature” in the cosmos (5:13). If that is the cosmic liturgy, the present scene is the liturgy of the nations, the Internationale of redeemed humankind. Although the crowd is multilingual, it is nonetheless able to cry aloud with one voice to God and the Lamb (7:10). Unity and difference, the one and the many, are here depicted as being mutually reinforcing rather than competitive. It is now the nations’ turn to lead the worship of God, and when they sing their hymn the cherubim, elders, and angels respond with a doxology of their own: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (7:12). 

Creaturely reality in the Bible is ek-centric: to find one’s center in God is, paradoxically, to be freed to be uniquely and oddly one’s self. Gathered around the divine throne, the tongues of all creatures are loosed to find their own peculiar parts in the cosmic song

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