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A Great Multitude

November 7, 2021 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: Revelation 7:9–7:17

The Festival of All Saints

November 7, 2021

Revelation 7:9-17

 “A Great Multitude”

In the life of the church, the month of November begins with this Festival of All Saints, and then brings the church year to a close on the Festival of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the church year (November 21). The appointed Scripture readings and themes for worship in this month remind us of the end of all things and the return of Christ to judge the world in righteousness. We are called to live in this world in such a way that we may always be ready to leave it. The fall season is a visual reminder to us of all these things as nature itself appears to be dying away; losing its life and vitality. Today we give thanks for all the saints; the whole Church on earth and in heaven, and by the grace of God in Jesus Christ we ourselves are among them. Today we remember and give thanks for all those saints who have gone before us in the faith, whose life and witness have shaped us to be the people of Christ that we are. Some years ago, when a longtime member of our congregation passed away, at the funeral a former pastor of his offered words of remembrance based on today’s first Scripture reading. His words were very moving and I have always remembered them: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude [plus one!] 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..” (Revelation 7:9. His point was that this child of God whose life on earth had ended was now part of that great multitude before the throne of God in heaven. And that was enormously comforting to hear, not just for the family, but for everyone on that day. On this Festival of All Saints, it is the image of that great multitude that serves as the basis for today’s message under the theme, “A Great Multitude.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

The book of Revelation, from which today’s first lesson is taken, is often misunderstood; viewed with uncertainty and even fear because of its strange imagery. Like an ever-expanding telescope, there are seven letters to seven churches, followed by seven seals, seven trumpets, seven visions and seven bowls. How are we to understand this? At its core, the message of Revelation is a message of encouragement and hopeful perseverance to God’s saints. If we keep that central message in mind, the book is understood in a different light. “The larger context of today’s first lesson is the opening of the seven seals (Revelation 6:1-8:5), which describe the 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. The chapter separates between a description of the Church being persecuted at the close of this present age (vv. 1-8), and a picture of the Church in heaven in the new age after the saints have passed through the period of persecution (vv. 9-17). These portraits of the Church have been contrasted… as the Church militant in the present age and the Church triumphant in the age to come” (Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, After Pentecost 2, by Marion Soards, Thomas Dozeman, and Kendall McCabe. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992; p. 121).

This great multitude made up of people from every nation, tribe, people and language is that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1-2), clothed in “the garments of salvation, covered in the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10) – Christ’s own righteousness that covers all our sins and gives to us everything that he has won for us through his sacrificial death on the cross. All of Jesus and all of his redeeming work become ours in the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism. This is what is meant by that verse: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14b). Marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit for life eternal, we are already – this side of heaven – part of that great multitude, who are “coming out of the great tribulation” (Revelation 7:14). Believers in Christ do not somehow magically escape the sufferings of this present time. The Lord has not promised that he will keep us from sufferings and sorrows, but he does promise that he himself will be with us in the midst of them. The Word of the Lord promises that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This is the communion of saints; Christ’s whole Church on earth and in heaven. By the grace of God in Jesus, we are blessed to be part of this holy fellowship. Even death itself cannot sever these ties.

On this All Saints Sunday, I have people on my mind; those members of our congregation who have died in the Lord since All Saints Day last year: Jan, Mitzi, Eleanor, Lori, Shirley, Drew, Emma, and Judy. You may have loved ones in your own life who have also fallen asleep in Jesus, and who are now among that great multitude which no one can number. In our risen Lord Jesus Christ, we have resurrection hope and peace which passes all understanding. We do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), for our hope is in our risen, reigning, and returning Savior. But we are only human, and the loss of a loved one hurts terribly. Pastor Berthold Von Schenk wrote this about the loss of his wife:  

Our human nature needs more than the assurance that someday and in some way we shall again meet our loved ones ‘in heaven.’ That is all gloriously true. But how does that help us now? When we, then, view death in the light of the Communion of Saints and Holy Communion, there is no helpless bereavement. My loved one has just left me and has gone on a long journey. But I am in touch with her. 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 nearer I come to my Lord in Holy Communion, the nearer I come to the saints, to my own loved ones. I am a member of the Body of Christ, I am a living cell in that spiritual organism, partaking of the life of the other cells, and sharing in the Body of Christ Himself. 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. (“The Presence,” in For All the Saints, Vol. IV, 1377-1378)   

And so on this Festival of All Saints, we come to that place where heaven meets earth here in the Lord’s Supper. Where Jesus is, there is forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Where Jesus is, there his saints will also be, together with angels, archangels, and with all the company of heaven, with that great multitude which no one can number. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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