November 5, 2017
Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of God. We’ll gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God. The imagery that we receive from our opening hymn this morning as we remember the saints that have lived among us is wonderful. The river of life. The flowing water that we find in our baptismal font. The water that flows over us and cleanses us of our sins. The water that joins us to those saints we now give thanks for. It is a familiar hymn.
The familiarity does not end there. The gospel lesson should sound familiar as it was read just over six months ago during the season of Easter. A return to the Beatitudes is never a bad thing as we are reminded of those that are blessed among us and what the kingdom of God looks like.
You may have even connected the Revelation reading to our entrance into Holy Week earlier this year. An entrance in which Jesus is paraded into Jerusalem, and only him and possibly us, on this side of the story, are aware of what is about to play out in the days to come. If you recall, Jesus was paraded into Jerusalem as people were shouting, “Hosanna” and waving palm branches.
Once again, we have palm branches in our midst. “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”
I find it unusual and amazing that suddenly the author of Revelation forgot how to count. Earlier he counts that there were seven churches and seals. There were twenty-four thrones and elders. In the preceding chapter, we read of 144,000 of Israel being sealed with protection amidst the catastrophe. That is 12,000 from each tribe of Israel.
He is then shocked with such a multitude of people that the number at the throne of God could not be counted. This multitude comes from every nation, tribe, and race. How big could this number be? Everyone that had lived on the earth up to that point? Did you know that today, that number would be well over 108 billion people.
The book of Revelation has been used to scare people into doing. It has been used as a threat. If you don’t follow the law of God to each word, then you will not be among those 144,000. Books and movies have ran with these themes, like the Left Behind series, and left people in fear and an impression of God that does not reflect the God that we witness in Christ Jesus.
When we begin to use the bible as a hammer to try to nail in certain points against those we fear as our opponents, we do not leave much room for God. We do this to ourselves and those that we feel think differently than us. We are quick to raise our palm branches to celebrate what we think is good, and when we are later let down we find it hard at times to get back up.
This morning we remember those saints that have left us in this earthly world this past year. These losses that we have experienced have come expectantly due to long term health issues. Others have been more sudden and we are left wondering and have had little to no chance of getting to say our final goodbyes. That one last, “I love you,” before they died.
Some of us may be still mourning the loss of a friend or family member. Some of you may still be grieving the loss that you have experienced more than a year ago. While the person we have said goodbye to is no longer suffering, we may be suffering in our own hearts. God did not promise that there would be no suffering. God does not promise us an easy life where we receive everything we want and then some.
We seek answers for all of our questions and are still left wondering. People try to comfort us with words from the Bible, which at times are taken out of context and leaves us with even more questions. It is impossible to put God in a box when we do not fully understand the mystery ourselves. It is in that mystery that we find hope and ultimately love.
Salvation belongs to our God as Revelation says. It does not belong to anyone else. It is not something that can be given to us by someone in power. Salvation only comes to us through the love and grace of God and the son, Jesus who came to us incarnate and walked along side us to experience the same suffering that we experience.
It is this same salvation that is revealed to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection on Easter Sunday. The promise of life that we witness is given to us and the believers that are gathered around the throne of God. It is the white robes that have been washed in the blood of the lamb that symbolizes their death in the waters of baptism and the new life that is found there.
This is the reason that we too give thanks for those that have been baptized this past year. They have died their first death to the sins of this life and have been washed clean and now stand side by side with all of the saints of the world. The saints that have gone before us and the ones that are still alive. This is what a saint looks like today. Just like you and me. There is nothing special, just the grace of God that has washed over us in the waters of baptism.
Does the grace of God end there?
I can’t tell you. That is the mystery that is our God. A mystery that we will not fully experience until the kingdom of God comes into our own view. The Beatitudes that Jesus preaches this morning speaks to not just a time to come, but the time that we are presently in, and the time that was. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” and on and on.
In Revelation, hear the hope of the kingdom to come and the promise that God has made. “The one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Jesus will indeed wipe away every tear from every eye. Indeed Jesus is there in the present as well as the grace of God bringing us to the multitude that worships and praises God. As we join in the multitude this morning, we are surrounded by the saints, both living and dead. We gather for communion in the promise that we are communing with all of the saints of heaven. It is here that we find comfort and love.
Let us pray. God, our savior, we give thanks for all the saints. The saints that have guided us through our lives and continue to do so today. We pray for those still mourning, that you may bring peace to them and the love you share abundantly. You are the God who was, is, and is to come, and in this we receive your grace and are gathered into the multitude. Amen.