9 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. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
11 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 worshipped God, 12 singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ 14 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.
15 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.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,Revelation 7:9-17
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
For All the Saints
In 2018 we headed over to Charleston, WV for Christmas, to spend Christmas with my family. This was a yearly ritual for me since I was a kid and one that continued when Sara and I got married and when we had Micah. This was Leah’s first time spending Christmas in West Virginia.
However, not long after getting up there my grandmother started feeling bad (well she had been feeling bad, but she had deteriorated significantly). I remember helping her to my uncle’s car so he and my aunt could help get her to the hospital. Not too long after getting there, she was checked into a room, and unfortunately, signs were not often positive.
One of the “benefits” of having done a chaplain internship in a hospital has been an understanding of “hospital language.” I learned charting language and especially learned how to talk to doctors, nurses, and hospital staff to ask the right questions without pushing too far.
I tried not to spend too much time at the hospital while we were there, but I often found myself drawn there, sitting with my mom or aunt (whoever happened to be there). Sara came with me a couple of times and we brought the kids by once thinking this might be the last time they would see her.
It was far from the Christmas we wanted to have, but it was the Christmas that happened. After a number of days of this, we realized there wasn’t much we could do, and I could check in and call during or right after morning rounds to help parse some of the information the doctors conveyed.
My grandmother passed away on January 7, 2019, the call I received broke my heart and my spirit. I struggled with the news and in many ways still struggle with how I process the fact she is no longer physically with me.
Death is a weird thing.
It feels like something has been taken away from us, and yet, we are told over and over again to feel alright, because we are in a better place. However, I don’t want to feel alright. I don’t want to be angry at them for dying. I don’t even feel angry at God, because I don’t believe God is out here just taking people from us.
- God doesn’t cause death.
- God doesn’t take us when it is our time.
- God merely accepts us into their arms when the time comes.
However, it feels so different for us still on earth.
It feels different because we are used to life with them. We are used to them in our presence, and our grief becomes palpable in the ways we yearn to be with them once again. The longing for a hug or connection.
Sometimes I still wish I could call my Nana and just check in, and let her know how much Micah has grown. I wish she could have been there to see me get ordained later in June that very same year she passed away. It feels like she is missing so much of what is happening, and yet, we know she is not.
The amazing thing about our faith is how faith doesn’t have an answer for our grief. Faith has a comfort for it. Faith does not magically erase the sadness of loss, but it comes in and says, “I see how you’re feeling, and we are here for you.”
Before us today is an awe-inspiring passage. It is another vision, similar to how our scripture was presented to us last week. It is a vision of heaven. It is a vision of the Kin-dom that God offers to John, but it is perhaps one of the most beautiful visions we probably get.
“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.”Revelation 7:9
Today in our church calendar is All Saint’s Sunday.
All Saint’s Day is November 1st, but if that day doesn’t fall on a Sunday, then we observe it the following Sunday.
It is a day to reflect on those who have passed from this life and on to eternal salvation. We especially reflect on those we have lost in the last year. We light a candle for them and hear their names read as a form of remembrance and celebration of their death.
Death feels like this lonely thing.
Even in the midst of being surrounded by family and friends, we feel as if our emotions are our own. Sometimes we welcome the comfort of others, and sometimes we push it away. However, it is verses like this that remind us of the wideness of heaven, and when we attach that to our understanding of heaven as we discussed it last week it enhances that feeling even more.
This multitude, this number of people too great to count. All of these individuals, gathered together, shouting for salvation and singing praise to God. What an image for us to connect with salvation, with heaven, with the mere sight of worship.
We gather together this All Saints Sunday, to ponder, reflect, and remember those whom, we have lost. We remember those who we feel are lonely in death, and thereby have left us feeling lonely on earth. Do not get me wrong, I do not demean the dead’s relationship with God in heaven, nor the relationship we have with others around us. However, death can leave a hole in us. In some cases, the relationship we have lost will give us a sense of grief.
We feel we have lost the physical, but here in Revelation, we learn that we can never lose the spiritual. We can never have the connections we have made taken away from us. The image that we concoct in our minds in reference to this passage I often reflect as that great cloud of witnesses. There are people from all over, from everywhere, gathered, praising God and singing together.
It is a time of joyous celebration, and we may consider ourselves divorced from it, saddened because our loved ones are not here, but they are there.
Remember heaven is already here, we have an opportunity to praise and sing with them. They continue to gather with us for worship, they continue to sing hymns alongside of us, and they continue to be present with us through the same grace that has brought us together with God and one another.
We think ourselves alone, in life and in death, but here in Revelation, we see the witness of community that has surrounded us all along. It is the witness of community that welcomed us into Christian faith, that has nurtured us, watched us grow and mature in our faith, and now celebrates the life we lived. However, it is beyond that, it is the whole of creation that witnesses this life.
We see, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and language…” We are not alone, we are surrounded by a creation, by a people, from every walk of life. In heaven the human made barriers we have created are no more we join together every tribe, every tongue, every nation, and we feast together at the table of the Lord. There are no longer divisions among us, in fact all the quarrels we claim to have with one another are no more.
Gathering the Multitude
We hear of this great multitude, and it is beyond our comprehension in counting. In the first verses of this chapter (if you look back) we hear of the 144,000 of Israel, the people whom God births through to begin this great multitude coming from the 12 tribes of Israel, but now numbering beyond our comprehension and coming from the vast expanse of the earth.
We see in verse 13, the pondering question of the one of Israel,
“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”Revelation 7:13-14
A calling toward the cleansing power of Christ, as if it is drawing the world together.
All the pain and the heartache. All the suffering and hatred. Everything that has ever felt incomplete or imperfect about creation has been brought together and all of creation washed clean by the grace of God.
We cannot ignore the holy work of Christ, but we can recognize and see the way it brings us all; past, present, and future. It enjoins us together around a common table and calls us to live wonderfully in the community of the Lord forever.
When my grandmother died, I as the family’s resident pastor, was asked to do the funeral service for her. I did not want to because the grief felt too raw. I have to admit (and mom if you’re watching/listening don’t worry) I hated that I had to preside over that funeral.
However, just as with most funerals, we not only remember, but we celebrate their life and their resurrection. My grandmother was a singer and choir director. She loved music more than anyone I have ever known.
I had so many problems writing the homily for that service until I started thinking about the music lessons, she gave me when I was a kid.
Learning to Sing
She used to tell me to listen to others as I sang, trying to match their pitch or match the pitch of the piano. Hear the notes in your head, remember them, and sing them back. These lessons were never taken to heart until I got deep into music during my undergraduate music studies. However, being able to know, understand, and match pitches served me well.
I still connect with the music in my head. The notes I hear are matched by what I project. In my head, I imagine the heavenly choir, a cacophony of backup singers. I imagine that she is helping to lead that heavenly choir, and helping even those who thought they were tone-deaf to find their notes.
As we gather and remember on this All Saint’s Sunday, we do so, remember those who were so much a part of our lives here on earth. We also call to reckon with those whom we may not have known, here in our local community and around the world. However, no matter where they are from or how much they impacted our lives, we are connected to all the saints in that great cloud of witnesses. Surrounded by our loved ones, singing and praising God in the glory of salvation.
A feeling we can never lose, because even when we feel most lonely, they still surround us, and they are extended to those both beyond this life and in this life who love and care for us.