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November 01, 2020
All Saints Day
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The book of Revelation was written to Christians in the Roman Empire who were struggling with a loss of identity and the threat of losing their lives. And it tends to scare people today because of its images of the conflict between good and evil.
But for the people who first heard it, Revelation was a message calling their communities of faith to respond with uncompromising witness to God and worship of God, who is sovereign over everything in heaven and on earth.
It was, and still is, a bold word of resistance to believers who are tempted to water down their faith and bear witness to something less than the Lordship of Christ.
The images that John uses in this book refer to the question: “Who or what is at the center of the Christian faith?” For John, it was vitally important that the Christians of his time remember that only Christ should be at the center of the Christian life.
And to emphasize this point, he uses terrifying visions to warn the people who were distancing themselves from faith in God. But the true function of this book is to comfort and encourage; so John also uses visions of the glorious triumph of God to reassure the people who were oppressed or felt as though they had no power.
The part we read today and, really, all of Chapter 7, is a pause in the midst of the chaos and it lifts the vision of the people of God above the destruction and toward a vision of the glory of the future. And it is a beautiful vision.😊
The people in the great multitude are the ones who have passed through the great ordeal – the Day of Judgment. They’re dressed in robes that have been made white by the blood of the lamb, and they’re waving palm branches – symbols of the victory of Christ.
They are saints. They lived lives of faith, following Christ no matter the cost. And now they stand before the throne of God, praising God day and night.
When we think of saints today, we tend to think that they’re super-religious people who lived perfect lives of faith, and people like Saint Teresa of Calcutta or Saint Óscar Romero come to mind.
But when the word “saint” is used in the New Testament, it doesn’t refer to a special class of Christians. It always means “everyone who is a follower of Christ.” That’s it. Everyone who is a follower of Christ is a saint.
As followers of Jesus, we are saints, each one of us. God has called us by name, and God chose us before the founding of the world and promised to do great things through us for the sake of all the other saints that God loves so much.
Our lives as saints are a response to our relationship with God and God’s work in us. As saints, we live into the example that Christ set for us, keeping our sight set on visions of God’s glory. These visions show us a picture of the way things are meant to be, and they give us a pattern for how to live our lives.
They show us that, one day, all will be made new. That people who are lame will be healed, and people who are broken will be made whole. That people who endured hate or hurt will be overwhelmed by love. That there will be unending worship of God because there will be no more crying and no more pain…
…no more cancer and no more Alzheimer’s; no more hunger and no more thirst; no more racism and no more poverty; no more Covid; no more depression and no more anxiety. Justice, wholeness, and righteousness will be reality. There will be an abundance for everyone. Songs of worship and unending praise will sound the only way they can when every worry has been put to rest.
This all sounds like a utopian fantasy, but it’s God’s vision of how things are meant to be. It’s what we pray for when we pray “your kingdom come, you will be done – on earth as in heaven.” And as people of God, as saints, this is the vision we work toward every day.
I’ve prayed through the names of the people we will remember in our prayers today, the ones who have died in the last year. We remember them together with the names and memories of family and friends that we hold in our hearts. They are a connection that transcends time and unites us forever in the body of Christ.
They are grandmas and grandpas, uncles and aunts, husbands, wives, cousins, best friends, sisters, brothers, moms and dads…ordinary people who, in some way, shaped that path that brought each of us to where we are in our lives today.
They lived real lives and went through ordeals in their own right. They experienced losing a job, the sacrifice that comes with caring for loved ones, disappointment, the deaths of family members or close friends, illness, depression.
They taught us that Jesus loves us, and they showed us how to live lives of faith in the face of reality, and encouraged us to keep going and loved us through the difficult times in our lives. They are saints.
As people of God, we are saints. And even in a pandemic – in a setting like this, every time we gather as a community, we’re surrounded by the communion of the saints: every person who has ever said that Jesus Christ is Lord and who now stands before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, waving palm branches and singing unending praise to God.
Their presence is a beautiful vision of hope and God’s glory, and a reminder to us that, no matter what happens – no matter the ordeals we endure, God’s vision of how things are meant to be will come to pass. Thanks be to God! Amen.