Topic: Biblical Verse: Revelation 7:9–7:17
The Festival of All Saints
November 1, 2020
It’s interesting how the Lord brings different strands of our lives together in ways that only He could do. One afternoon this past week, I went to a local care facility to visit a member of the congregation who is rapidly declining. In fact, she is dying. Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure that I would be able to get inside the building to see and minister to her, but this did come about. Upon entering the facility, I was already wearing a mask, and then had to do the temperature scan thing, as well as having a rapid COVID test. When that all checked out okay, I was required to gown, glove, and wear a face shield while a staff member escorted me to the room. I felt like I was going into battle, and in a sense I suppose that I was. The individual was heavily sedated and unaware that I was with her, but we had Scripture and prayer together. We also sang, and I went through the Rite of Commendation of the Dying for her. One of the appointed Scripture readings in this rite is today’s first reading from Revelation 7:9-17. How appropriate! As I commended this child of God into the hands of the Savior, today we are reminded that we also are in his care and keeping, in life and in death. Today we remember and give thanks for all the saints. We remember and give thanks for those whose names and stories are etched in sacred Scripture. We also remember and give thanks for those whose names and stories are known to us and to God alone. By the grace of God, they – and we – are among 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, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10). In John’s heavenly vision and at the center of this great multitude, as we are told in today’s first Scripture reading, is the Lamb. It is the Lamb that I would focus our attention on today, especially that final verse from the reading in Revelation: “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 7:17). Based on this, the theme for today’s sermon is ‘Shepherding Lamb.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Can a lamb also be a shepherd? Those seem like conflicting images, at least to us. One leads and one follows, but how can they one and the same? If this is a conflicting image, this is only one of several conflicting images here in Revelation 7. Another is what we hear from the elder to John about who all these people are, clothed in white. The elder tells John: “These are 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). Again, like with the lamb/shepherd image, this doesn’t make sense to us. We know that clothes don’t get clean by washing them in blood. Quite the opposite, in fact. Blood is what stains clothes. And yet, who are we to argue with that heavenly elder? In the wonder and mystery of Jesus’ upside-down kingdom where the last are first and the first are last (Matthew 19:30), where the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty (Luke 1:53), why can’t the Lamb also be the Shepherd? Why can’t blood make robes white? This only works if that lamb is Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). This Lamb of God is the One who says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). This is Jesus, our Shepherding Lamb, whose blood was shed for us on the cross. Baptized into his death and resurrection, we are now the people of his pasture, the sheep of his hand (Psalm 95:7). In Jesus our Shepherding Lamb, our future is secure, even when we die. In life and in death, we belong to Christ.
One of the impacts from the coronavirus is that we didn’t have a Confirmation Sunday back in early May. Today, we are celebrating this faith milestone that was delayed for six months. This morning, our one Confirmand for this year will be renewing her Baptismal vows in the Rite of Confirmation. The white robe she is wearing is a visual reminder of that passage in Revelation that in the cleansing blood of our Shepherding Lamb, all her sins have been washed away. Sustained by Word and Sacrament, we pray that she will continually grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ throughout her entire life (2 Peter 3:18). To be confirmed on All Saints Day reminds us that we stand in a long line of fellow believers who have gone before us, whose life and witness have pointed us to Jesus.
As we celebrate the Festival of All Saints, we remember “those who have died for the faith and those who have died in the faith. We also recognize this day all the baptized. We are sinners. Remember that the next time you look in the mirror. We are saints, as well. Remember that too. We are sinners in our own right and saints by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection for us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks his blessings on all his saints” (Sundays and Seasons: Year A 2020, Guide to Worship Planning. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2019; p. 297). “Blessed are you,” Jesus said again and again. Malcom Guite is an Anglican priest and academic, singer, songwriter, and poet. He wrote the following poem, entitled “A Last Beatitude”:
And blesséd are the ones we overlook;
The faithful servers on the coffee rota,
The ones who hold no candle, bell or book
But keep the books and tally up the quota,
The gentle souls who come to ‘do the flowers’,
The quiet ones who organize the fete,
Church sitters who give up their weekly hours,
Doorkeepers who may open heaven’s gate.
God knows the depths that often go unspoken
Amongst the shy, the quiet, and the kind,
Or the slow healing of a heart long broken
Placing each flower so for a year’s mind.
Invisible on earth, without a voice,
In heaven their angels glory and rejoice.
All Saints is not about our perfection, but God’s redemption of our imperfection through Jesus. It is the solid declaration that “we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). Left to ourselves, we would quickly dismiss this out of hand. “But you don’t know what I have done. You don’t know how I have sinned.” Our standing before God as his redeemed and beloved children – his saints – does not depend on what we think or feel about ourselves. Rather, it depends on what God has said, and what God has said is this: “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). We are God’s children now – that is God’s own truth. In a wonderful and mysterious way, we are joined together with all the saints on earth and in heaven here at Christ’s altar. In this Blessed Sacrament, our Shepherding Lamb Jesus Christ comes to us to strengthen and sustain us through his Body and Blood, given and shed for us. The words of the liturgy for the Sacrament remind us of how we are knit together as one in the Body of Christ: “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying…” Thanks be to God. Amen.