November 5, 2017 – White Bluff Presbyterian Church
These words were directed to people who were hurting. They were shunned by their neighbors because of their choice to worship Jesus instead of everything other people said they ought to worship. Some members of their churches had lost jobs, they had been arrested, and they might have even been under the threat of death. Some members of their churches had undoubtedly found it easier just to leave the church rather than to face the choices they had to make every day: make things easy on yourself, or follow Jesus. They were afraid. They were sad. They felt alone, and they might have even felt abandoned by God. Just to live with their faith in Jesus required a level of courage, commitment, and strength that we cannot imagine.
But then they read this letter which John of Patmos had sent to them. When they read it, they found themselves in a massive throne room, with countless thousands upon thousands of people. God was seated in the place of honor, and the place of power; it was clear that nothing in that room, and nothing in all of God’s realm, either, would escape God’s notice, and nothing would be outside of God’s power to do something about it. John said that in his vision, people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” were in that throne room; who could ever feel alone there? All of those people were worshipping: they waved palm branches, they were covered in simple clothing, without too much fuss or bother. Just imagine being in that room; just imagine the countless faces of all different kinds of people. Maybe you would see kings and queens, powerful people in their own times, although with the plain white robes covering their bodies and the palm branches in their hands, it sounds like you would not be able to tell them from the common folks. Maybe you would see some famous people from history, faces you would recognize because they have been photographed or painted and appeared in history books or television specials. Although there are so many people, and it seems unlikely, maybe you would even see the face of someone you knew once, someone who had died a long time ago, or even a short time ago; maybe that would cause some sadness or confusion or maybe it would simply be a sweet joy to see them again.
Some of us have spent the last few weeks studying Revelation in our mid-week Bible study. We have seen that this is the picture of God which this part of Scripture paints for us. It is an image of God as One who is all-powerful, who sees everything God’s people are going through, who has the power to save them from any trial or oppression they face, and who, at the end of it all, will vindicate God’s people. This image reminds us that this faith we hold has been carried by generation upon generation before us. Before we came along, people believed and tested and prayed and lived and sang this faith. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our own work to question it and even to shape it for the realities of our time and for the future. But we do so building on what we have been given by those others who came before us.
And it is also one of the images which we have before us each year for All Saints’ Day. In the past few years, we have developed a tradition of speaking the names of our saints here in this room on All Saints’ Sunday: those people who have formed us in faith, helped us to live and to grow, and who have now passed away. Some of you have told me about the names we have read: they are your parents and grandparents, Sunday School teachers and mentors, co-workers and friends, and many others who no longer walk this earth, but when they did, they walked in the ways of Jesus, and they taught you to walk in those ways, too. This year, for a variety of reasons, we did not collect those names before the service today. Instead, we are going to let you envision those saints in whatever way works for you. John of Patmos, who wrote Revelation, came to see those countless multitudes of people who had come before in a vision. He actually saw them, pictured in his mind’s eye, in a heavenly throne room, worshipping around the throne of God. Maybe that kind of seeing will help you: to close your eyes and actually picture the faces and the bodies of those people who have come before and showed you how to walk in the ways of Jesus. Or maybe you are more of a verbal person, so it would be better for you to silently speak their names as you remember them, or to recall what their voices sounded like. Or maybe you need to use your other senses: remember what they smelled like, or remember the taste of the food they shared with you, or remember the feeling of the place where you encountered them most often, like their home or church or some other place.
Whatever way works for you, we are going to take a few minutes now to recall those people who have been saints to us in this room. Our bell choir members can start coming forward; they are going to play for us while we call on the saints, remembering them, naming them, and seeing or hearing or feeling them in whatever way works best for us. As we remember, among us we will call up a multitude, and even though we can’t know the saints that our neighbors know, we can know that in this place, in this walk of faith, in this life which we want to live well, we are not alone; we are a part of a countless multitude of God’s people singing and praising and rejoicing in the presence of God.
And so in this time, while the bells play, I invite you to be aware of the presence of the people who have been saints for you: to see them, to hear their names and their voices, to taste their gifts and feel the places they inhabited. Let us remember the saints…
…Sisters and brothers, God wants us to recognize that we are not alone. We are among countless multitudes who have come before us, receiving God’s care, especially in times that are terrifying, that are lonely, and that are filled with grief and sadness. And, as the vision of scripture we read a few minutes ago goes on, God wants us to join our voices with those countless multitudes who have come before us. God wants us to sing our hearts out, singing with full voice. As we turn our faces toward God, we lift our palm branches high, or maybe just lift up our hearts. As we dance in our gleaming white robes, or maybe just in whatever it is we decided to put on when we were getting ready to come here this morning, we look in the crowd for those saints who have taught us how to live and how to believe. God wants us to sing as we come to realize the truth of this vision: as we join with those countless multitudes, our spirits will never need to be hungry again, and our souls will never need to be parched again, because God protects us from the scorching sun and guides us to the water of life springing forth, and God will wipe every tear from our eyes.
That is my prayer on this day of celebrating the saints: that we join with these countless multitudes in praising our God, this day, and every day of our lives. Amen.