Re-membering the Saints
Topic: Biblical Verse: Revelation 7:9–7:17
The Festival of All Saints
October 31-November 1, 2015
“Re-membering the Saints”
If you looked at the title for the sermon today, you may be thinking that there’s a typo: there shouldn’t be a hyphen in the word “remembering.” There is “remembering” and there is “re-membering.” The Festival of All Saints is about more than “remembering” men and women of God – recalling their life and witness, bringing their memory to mind. The Festival of All Saints is really more about “re-membering’ them: celebrating the connection we still have with them in our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. We are “knit together” in one holy Church, “the mystical body of [your Son] Jesus Christ,” as the Prayer of the Day put it. In our worship today, we will “re-member” those saints from our congregation who have gone to be with the Lord during this past year. Though physically absent from our fellowship, they are now part of that “great cloud of witnesses” which surrounds us – we who are still running the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2). And so on this All Saints Sunday, we give thanks to God for all the saints whose robes have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). Based on today’s first Scripture lesson, the theme for this message is “Re-membering the Saints.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
That first lesson comes from the final book of Scripture, Revelation, often misunderstood and feared. Simply put, the message of Revelation is to give encouragement and hope to Christ’s people in the midst of suffering and persecution for the sake of the Gospel. Numbers are important in Revelation – 7, 12, 666, 144,000, and there are lots of word pictures of things that are in code (the beast, Babylon, the thousand years). Today’s first Scripture reading is set in the larger context of the opening of the seven seals (Revelation 6:1-8:5), which describes apocalyptic catastrophes that will accompany the close of this age. Revelation 7 is often described as an interlude between the sixth (Revelation 6:12-17) and seventh (Revelation 8:1-5) seals. Chapter seven begins with a description of the church on earth in this present age as God’s people are sealed for salvation in the midst of trials and tribulations (Revelation 7:1-8), and ends with a description of the church in heaven after the saints have passed through the time of persecution (Revelation 7:9-17). The Church, the Bride of Christ, spans both of these epochs. The Church on earth in this present time is sometimes called the “Church Militant,” so called because in this present time with Christ as our Captain we are like the hymn says, “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war” – the war against sin, death, and the evil one. The Church in heaven is sometimes referred to as the “Church Triumphant,” so called because in the age to come Christ’s triumph over sin, death, and the evil one will be revealed finally and fully. But it is and ever shall be one Church – the Church on earth, the Church Militant, and the Church in heaven, the Church Triumphant. By the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we are “all the saints.” In the midst of our journey of faith in this life, it is important that we not lose sight of what awaits us and reunion with those who have gone before us in faith. And so we re-member all the saints.
Who are those saints in your life now part of the Church Triumphant who have blessed you and pointed you to Jesus in your own journey of faith? Parents, grandparents, family members, neighbors, friends, church workers – people of Christ “who from their labors rest”? The vision given to John here in Revelation 7 begins with that “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9). That’s important for us to hold onto. There will be lots of people in heaven who don’t look like us or talk like us, but like us, their trust and hope is in Christ Jesus, who lived, suffered, died, and rose again for our salvation. Note the symbols of victory: palm branches and white robes. The song they sing is not about their salvation, but about the greatness of God who alone is able to save. And then the angels, elders, and four living creatures take up that song and expand upon it with a seven-fold hymn of praise: “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). We sing this during the Easter season in that much-loved hymn of praise, “This is the Feast.” This is the vision of the Church Triumphant that we need to hold on to here on earth in the Church Militant.
The book of Revelation shifts back and forth from heaven to earth, from what will be to what is. That white-robed multitude in our text is seen from two timeframes: in the present as “the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14), but also in the future yet to be revealed as those who are “before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence” (Revelation 7:15). As we re-member all the saints, those living and those who have gone before us in the faith, it is important to remember that our experience in this world is not an accurate indicator of what will be. There is a discontinuity because our own experience here and now is not the final word on who God is or what God can do. And we see this clearly in what the elder says to John: the robes of the saints have been made white by washing them in red blood. From a human perspective, that is illogical, and our earthly experience doesn’t support this. Blood is something that stains; it doesn’t clean. It doesn’t make sense! Red doesn’t make white, and yet without that cleansing red blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7), our robes remain soiled and filthy. Red does indeed make white (see Isaiah 1:18), but only in Jesus. Our celebration of the Festival of All Saints, our re-membering of the all the saints, celebrates this mysterious, sovereign power of God who alone is able to bring life from death. In commemorating the dead we are in fact celebrating life.
The beautiful description of what awaits God’s saints at the close of the this lesson is actually rooted in God’s promise through his prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 49:10): “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16-17). The Lamb is also the Shepherd – think about that. “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)… “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” (Psalm 23:1). This is Jesus, who is Lord of the Church on earth and in heaven. This is Jesus, who unites us not only with himself but with all his saints here in the Lord’s Supper. In the mystery of this holy meal, we are one as we re-member all the saints. Thanks be to God. Amen.