|William Blake, "The Four and Twenty Elders"|
Notice, again with the looking. John has a vision - it's not literal. It's not history, and therefore shouldn't be interpreted that way. It's more like an icon - a window into some deeper truth. In fact this is often how icons are explained, as windows or doorways to heaven. And this is exactly the language that John uses here: he sees a doorway into heaven. There is singing, day and night, without ceasing: "Holy, holy, holy Lord..."'
He sees a throne, surrounded by twenty-four thrones. Thrones are about power and authority. Kings sit on thrones. Politicians have their own "seats of power." This vision insists that the Lamb is the true king of kings and lord of lords. To say this, that "Jesus is Lord," is a political statement; it counters the claim that Caesar is. While there have been, and will be, many "pretenders to the throne," there is only one who is worthy of this throne.
When we sing the Sanctus as part of the Eucharistic Prayer, when we sing "Holy, holy, holy Lord..." we are joining with the saints and angels who are always singing around the throne. Why do we do this? We do it to remind us where our allegiance lies, where true power and authority rest. We pray that it might be on earth as it is in heaven.
I heard a wonderful sermon, on a different text, this past Maundy Thursday. You can find it here. I encourage you to listen to it or read it; the link gives you both options. Because I think the fourth chapter of Revelation is "radical" in precisely the same way. When we sing this song with the heavenly chorus we are remembering where our true allegiance lies, and that is not simply about turning the pyramid of power from first-century Rome upside down. It's about participating in the work of God in the world which is always about turning things "upside down" in order to make them right. With God's help. This is the challenge that the seer sets before us: to take up the work that God has given us to do. Not to be like "warm spit" - neither hot nor cold - but rather a Church that has opened the door and let Christ in.
I think this image is enormously encouraging to people who feel weary. I imagine that if the fire hoses are turned on you, if you have been falsely and unjustly maligned for taking the side of the vulnerable, that this remembering of the true "seat of power" helps us to keep our eyes on the prize and to not lose heart.