A Great Multitude
Topic: Biblical Verse: Revelation 7:9–7:17
The Festival of All Saints
November 5-6, 2011
“A Great Multitude”
This past Monday, October 31, was Halloween, with trick-or-treaters and more candy than the human mind can comprehend. For us Lutheran Christians, October 31 also celebrates Reformation Day, and the work of God through his servant, Martin Luther. Besides these, October 31 this year was another landmark, not only for those who observe Halloween and Reformation, but for everyone in the world. On October 31, the United Nations declared that the human population hit 7 billion – a new record for planet Earth. To put this into perspective, it was not until 1830 that the world’s population hit the 1 billion mark. One hundred years later in 1930, we reached 2 billion people, and have been growing exponentially since then. We reached the milestone of 6 billion people in 1999, a mere twelve years ago (http://www.vaughns-1-pagers.com/history/world-population-growth.htm). What does all of this mean for life on Earth and the future of humanity? The short answer is, we don’t really know because the world’s population has never been at this level before. That is a staggering number to wrap our mind around: 7 billion; it is a great multitude. Those are the very words used in today’s first Scripture lesson to describe all those believers from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” Gathered before the throne of God and before the Lamb, they are “a great multitude that no one could number” (Revelation 7:9). On this Festival of All Saints, we celebrate the salvation of God in Jesus Christ that numbers us among that great multitude of all the saints. The theme for today’s message, based on that first Scripture lesson, is entitled “A Great Multitude.” May the Lord’s rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
The first Scripture lesson in our Reformation worship last Sunday was also from the book of Revelation (Revelation 14:6-7), in which we heard: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (Rev. 14:6). This is exactly what we are engaged in now! This is the Great Commission that Christ has given to his Church: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). When all is said and done, everything we do as a congregation needs to support the work of mission; of telling people around the corner and around the world the good news about Jesus. This is what we are endeavoring to do through our congregation’s outreach ministry to all people, including Hispanic and Arabic language mission work. And the fruit of that Great Commission, the proclamation of that eternal Gospel, is what we see in today’s lesson with that “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). What an incredible vision this is! To see on that great and final day all our fellow believers from every time and place, all clothed in spotless white robes that have been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.
Sometimes we lose sight of that great multitude. In the midst of life’s demands and challenges that can stretch the thread of faith very thin – even to the breaking point – we forget the blessing of one another, including those saints who have gone before us in the faith. Who are those saints in our lives who have pointed us to Jesus – who have moved and inspired us in our own faith? Let us give thanks to God for their life and witness. It’s interesting to note that in the Scriptures, the word “saint” is never used in the singular; it’s always in the plural – “saints.” Faith is never self-made, but is always set in the context of the faith we share with all the saints. This is why it is so vitally important for us to come together as the people of Christ around Word and Sacrament. We are blessed in our coming together because Christ himself is among us, and we are strengthened through him for our journey of faith. It is here, in the Lord’s Supper, that all the saints come together in a marvelous and mysterious way that transcends human understanding. As one Lutheran pastor wrote in the days following his own wife’s passing: “The saints are a part of the Church. We worship with them. They worship the Risen Christ face to face, while we worship the same Risen Christ under the veil of bread and wine at the altar. At the Communion we are linked with Heaven, with the Communion of Saints, with our loved ones. Here at the Altar, focused to a point, we find our communion with the dead; for the Altar is the closest meeting place between us and our Lord… When we, then, view death in the light of the Communion of Saints and Holy Communion, there is no helpless bereavement… I know that there is a place where we can meet. It is at the Altar. How it thrills me when I hear the words of the Liturgy: ‘Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven,’ for I know that she is there with that company of Heaven, the Communion of Saints, with the Lord… The Blessed Sacrament links us not merely to Bethlehem and Calvary, but to the whole world beyond the grave as well, for at the Altar the infinite is shrined in the finite; Heaven stoops down to earth; and the seen and the unseen meet” (Berthold Von Schenk, For All the Saints, Vol. IV, pp. 1376-1378).
In the midst of our individual lives, let us never forget that we are part of something greater than ourselves. By the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we are part of that great multitude. The Festival of All Saints rejoices in that union we now have with the church on earth and the church in heaven. But All Saints also looks ahead to that day when all is made new in the kingdom which the Lord has prepared for all who love him. We live in the “now,” and the “not yet” as today’s Epistle lesson tells us: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Having come out of the great tribulation that is our journey of faith through this life, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in our hands – the symbol of victory, we shall see Him – our risen, reigning, and returning Lord Jesus Christ, the One who loves us and gave his very life for us and for our salvation. We shall see Him and be with Him forever. “Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:12).