The Feast of All Saints’
November 2, 2014
9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
3Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;
17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
This stirs my heart every time I read it. It summons up multicolored visions of this amazing image revealed to a man named John at a time of great persecution of God’s people. How many of you have seen a movie or play of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
John’s visions are very much like that, a chance to peer into the future while it’s still time to do something in the present. So these amazing messages come to John to encourage those who are under great stress and persecution, especially those who suffer for their faith in a time when worshipping any other god than Caesar and the gods of Greece and Rome. It has become the assurance of hope for all who struggle for faith in desperate times.
So we see this great gathering of people we don’t even recognize, every nation, every tribe, every language, robed in white, waving palms, and singing. There are angels gathered too, and dignitaries, and some fantastic creatures – with eyes and wings, one like an eagle, one like and ox, one like a lion, one like a man. They are all bowing to the ground to worship the Lamb who radiates like a jewel on the throne surrounded with rainbows. John can barely find words to describe everything he sees. As the vision progresses, tragedy after tragedy is revealed as occurring on the earth, destruction and despair and great suffering, all the miseries that can befall humanity in it’s grasp for power and wealth and domination. But before all that we see this, these faithful. They have claimed the crucified and risen Jesus as their Savior, and all the miseries of the world have passed away as they are gathered around the throne of God. All the suffering of loss, of poverty, of failure, of drugs and alcohol, of abuse, of war and betrayal, all has fallen away and they are safe.
In the same way that the ghosts of “A Christmas Carol,” are sent to Ebenezer Scrooge to open his eyes to another reality, so the visions of John in Revelation are meant to show the faithful that what’s happening in their life is not the only reality. They tell us that the power that raised Jesus from the dead has changed the world forever, and that we live in the New Kingdom in which that Lamb that was slaughtered now reigns supreme over heaven and earth. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is still at work in our world, claiming victory over our own failures and over the powers of everything that haunts us, even death itself. We are part of that throng around the throne, already robed in the saving grace of God’s love through Jesus, and able to rejoice even in the face of everything that makes our world hurt.
Ever hear the word “PROLEPSIS?” It’s one that you learn in Systematic Theology, and it means that the world of God’s future is crashing in on us this very day. It’s the future we hear about this morning in which God wipes away every tear. So we live in two worlds at once. This promised world in which the victory over all that harms us has been overcome by God’s power of life, and the one in which we lose loved ones, fail to make our dreams come true, face disease and earthquake and flood.
Turn to the Gospel for today: who are the ones who are blessed? Those who think their faith is not enough; those with great loss, the losers, those who cry for justice, the wimpy and tender-hearted, those who work against aggression and those who are outcast because of their faith. You are in good company, says Jesus, because my most famous prophets are right there with you.
So in this day when we remember those who are our saints in faith, our mentors, our parents, those whom we expect to meet at that throne, remember that you are among them also, living the promises of the future at the same time that you struggle to be faithful every day. You are not alone. Jesus, the Lamb, is your shelter and your provider. He holds your future securely in his loving hands, and nothing that you can do or that can be done to you will ever change that. Amen.