There are so many dramatic, evocative scenes in the Bible: Moses parting the Red Sea, receiving the Ten Commandments; Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal; the Transfiguration, the events of Maundy Thursday, and many more. I’m not a movie buff, but I know I’ve seen many of these events depicted, probably in black-and-white classics from before my time.
As dramatic and wonderful as many of these events are, none of them spark my imagination in the same way that this passage from Revelation does. John is lead to this astounding scene that must have been overwhelming to him. Trumpets blowing, winged creatures flying about, endless singing and waving of palm branches, and a crowd whose size no one can number, dressed in pure white robes, surrounding the magnificent throne of the Lamb. I close my eyes and try to imagine all there is to see and hear. It is too much for me to comprehend.
John is asked, “Who are all these people?” And of course the answer is that they are those who have endured the great trials, from every land, every race and tribe, and every tongue. “If thou dost count iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness in you.” One day you will stand, and I will stand, joined with people of every walk of life, by God’s free gift of grace.
It’s easy to be sentimental today, and there’s certainly time for that. I think about loved ones lost: family, friends, teachers, and, sometimes most difficult, students. Some of these people I miss every day. I like to picture them in this numberless throng, singing, in endless light.
Hold that thought!
In the past several weeks, we’ve been reading from the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Today, we turn back to the Beatitudes in chapter 5. If we turn back further, these incredible words are preceded by many miracles. Jesus quietly heals the sick, but we read that great crowds gather to witness his work and to be healed themselves. Jesus leads his disciples away from the crowd and speaks these familiar and illogical words:
Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who mourn; blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted and the reviled.
Some of those roles are not very appealing. We don’t want to be poor in spirit, we struggle with mourning. Society doesn’t teach us to be meek. And perhaps we’re not even bold enough in our faith to be reviled by others.
I believe those blessed people Jesus names are the very people surrounding his throne, singing day and night. Saints, to be sure. I suppose the famous saints are there—the ones who have churches and colleges named after them. But so are our saints, those in our lives who brought us to faith, who comforted us, fed us, who showed us mercy, who modeled purity of heart. We call their names and thank God for them.
Perhaps like me, many of your saints have passed on and have received their rest. In the traditional Communion liturgy, in th Preface to the Sanctus, the pastor concludes with these words:
and so with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.
What an invitation, to join, for a few short minutes, the endless song of praise that the saints sing day and night.
We were reminded on Reformation last week that we can’t earn these white robes and palm branches on our own. Our salvation is through God’s gift of grace. “Lord, if thou dost count iniquities, I know I can’t stand.”
Jesus is calling us to respond to this gift of grace that we have also received. We are now to be peacemakers, in meekness, humility, and purity of heart. Why? Because this is one way that the Gospel of Christ is spread: when we share God’s message of salvation, grace, and peace to those who follow after us. With God’s help, may it be so!
I invite you to reflect on John’s vision and the powerful words of Christ that have been heard this evening.