A Reading from the Book of Revelation (7:9-17)
After 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. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And 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, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I 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. For 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. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for 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.”
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 I will bless the Lord at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
2 I will glory in the Lord; *
let the humble hear and rejoice.
3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord;*
let us exalt his Name together.
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.
5 Look upon him and be radiant, *
and let not your faces be ashamed.
6 I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, *
and he will deliver them.
8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!
9 Fear the Lord you that are his saints, *
For those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger, *
but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.
22 The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, *
and none will be punished who trust in him.
A Reading from the First Letter of John (3:1-3)
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (5:1-12)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
There’s something missing from the seventh chapter of the Book of Revelation. It should come between verses 8 and 9, but it just isn’t there. Verses 1-8 of that chapter take place on earth; they describe the sealing of the servants of God to prepare them for the great ordeal that is to come. But the very next verse, verse 9 with which we began today’s first reading, shifts the entire scene from earth to heaven; and suddenly, that great ordeal is already over, and the victory celebration has begun.
It’s not that the so-called “elect” have been magically “raptured” from earth to shield them from suffering. That is vision of the “Left Behind” series, and not at all that of the New Testament which teaches just the opposite. The servants of God have, in fact struggled and suffered and, in Revelation’s portrait, been martyred. Somewhere in between verses 8 and 9, they have done the work that God had given them to do and, in that work, have helped to usher in the fullness of the kingdom of God. And their part in that kingdom, while not directly described here, is critical and vital and essential to the story that Revelation tells and to the victory that finally comes.
Yes, there does seem to be something missing between verses 8 and 9 of Revelation, chapter 7; but there is also something missing in many Christians’ view of the coming in all its fullness of the reign of God. And, it is the exact same thing. What is missing is their critical and vital and essential role in bringing about the coming of that kingdom.
All Saints Day is a wonderful day. It is uplifting and positive and joyful. It is a great celebration and an anticipation of God’s final victory. Our readings describe that victory, and they remind us that we are children of God, and they lay out before us once again the life-giving promises of the beatitudes. All three of these readings have a healing and reassuring and life-giving effect – and they should.
But the big question that remains, the one that we like to skip over, is the question of our part in getting from here to there: from the world as we know it to the world as God wants it to be.
We love the images connected with the kingdom of God: a time and a place and a mode of existence in which no one will suffer hunger or thirst, in which no one will lack those things that all of us need for a full and happy life, in which no one will mourn, in which no one will suffer persecution or oppression or sickness or neglect. It is a day which Isaiah (25:6-8) describes so beautifully: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. 8Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”
What a magnificent vision! It is one that we can all embrace: one on which all people, other than those who are the most deeply disturbed, can agree, including all Christians.
Where the disagreement comes is, not on the goal, but on the way to get to that goal: on the way to get from here to there. Some would take-in this vision and see it solely as what God is going to do for me or, at best, for me along with my family and closest friends. I (or we) can dream of that day when God is going to make sure that I no longer hunger or thirst, that I no longer suffer, that I no longer have to be afraid, that I no longer have to struggle through my daily life, that I no longer have to mourn. That is obviously a comforting thought, and it is part of the biblical message – but only part. Like the (imaginary) missing section between verse 8 and 9 of the Revelation 7 reading, it skips over our part in making that vision a reality, not just for ourselves, but for all God’s children.
The fuller biblical message holds up to us that grand vision of the kingdom of God and its description of a world transformed. But it also asks: “What are you, as the children of God, going to do to make it happen?” Like the great crowd in Revelation chapter 7, we have been sealed by God, “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” And, in the power of that Spirit, we have been sent out to make that vision a reality: to ensure that the hungry are fed, that the poor and neglected are raised up, that the sick and suffering are cared for, that the lonely are welcomed and loved, that the grieving are comforted.
Our role as the children of God, as the saints of God, is not a passive one: enabling us simply to sit back and hope and pray for God to make everything right. Instead, our role as the children of God, as the saints of God, is an active one. It is one of being co-creators with God, co-transformers of the world, co-makers of God’s new creation.
It is only when we have fully embraced and lived our mission as the saints of God in our time that we can, with genuine faith and commitment, look forward to that day about which we will be singing in today’s closing hymn (words by William Walsham How):
But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on his way. Alleluia!
By the grace of God and by our faithful service as the saints of God, may it be so.