In college, I had it down to an art. My English professor would assign a paper on a topic of total disinterest to me, such as, "Trace the themes of a A Tale of Two Cities and how Charles Dickens incited the later feminist critiques of authors like Kate Chopin and Elizabeth Cady Stanton." My initial reaction to such an assignment was, quite honestly, one of utter disdain. "Yuck," I would think to myself. "How boring." But no matter how boring I may have thought the subject matter was, it was still a subject matter on which I had to write. And not only that, it was a subject matter on which I had to write ten pages! For that was the standard length of our college English papers. But that was okay. Because, as I said, in college, I had it down to an art. Change the margins from 1 inch to 1.25 inches on either side. Make sure I double-space everything. Include at least four headers in big, bold twenty-point type because that will save me from having to write at least a half-page of thoughtful text. And then, of course, type everything in Courier New. After all, nothing takes up more space than Courier New.
Although I'm ashamed to admit it now, when typing my college English papers, I had only one goal in mind: Type as little as possible while taking up as much space as possible. But then I got to seminary. And then I began typing papers on topics that interested me - really interested me. And all of a sudden, my formatting preferences changed. Only ten pages on 1 Corinthians 11? How can I possible do that? Change the margins from 1 inch to .5 inches on either side. Make sure I space-and-a-half, rather than double-space, everything to save room. Keep all my headers the same size as everything else because that will give me at least an extra half-page of thoughtful text. And then, of course, type everything in Goudy Old Style. After all, nothing takes up less space than Goudy Old Style.
In our reading for today from Revelation 5, we are introduced to a paper of sorts, written in fine first century style not on multiple 8 ½ x 11 sheets of paper printed off from a computer, but on a continuous scroll. There is, however, an especially notable characteristic of this scroll: "Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals" (verse 1). This scroll, John tells us, has "writing on both sides." This would have been extremely rare, for usually, scrolls contained writing on one side only. The written side of the scroll, called the recto, had the fibers of a papyrus running horizontally, thereby making writing easier. Conversely, the unwritten side of the scroll, known as the verso, had the fibers of the papyrus ran vertically, making writing extremely difficult. This side, then, was usually used only for the title of the document. In some instances, however, if the author had a lot to say and not a lot of papyrus to write on, the author would use both sides of a scroll, making the scroll very unusual and very distinguished. Such is the case with this heavenly monograph. Apparently, the author of this work has a lot to say.
Another interesting feature of ancient scrolls was that in Roman society, wills, otherwise known as "testaments," were sealed, as is this scroll, and could not be opened until the death of the person to whom the will belonged. At first John thinks this particular "testament" cannot be opened: "I wept bitterly because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside" (verse 4). But then, the person to whom the "testament" belongs is found worthy to open his own scroll. Why? Because he has died: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain" (verse 9). This worthy one, of course, is Jesus. Jesus can open his own scroll. And what is on this scroll that is so important and so weighty that Jesus would have to use both sides to contain his thoughts? It is none other than God's message of redemption: "With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth" (verse 9-10). Jesus' message of love for us is so extensive, so far-reaching, and so comprehensive that he has to use both sides of the scroll to contain it.
I have met more than one person who has encountered a trial, a tragedy, or a terror that has left them doubting God's protection, grace, and love. If this is you, I would simply beg you to remember this simple promise and truth: The scroll has writing on both sides. God's love for you has not failed, faded, or floundered. It is just as strong - and just as long - as it has always been. The scroll has writing on both sides. And that's a better promise than even a seminary paper with .5 inch margins with space-and-a-half spacing in Goudy Old Style font. For that is a promise of God's love. The scroll has writing on both sides. Praise be to God!