Sermon for November 1, 2020, All Saints’ Day

Revelation 7:9-17 (All Saints’ Day)

“This is our Goal”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

November 1, 2020

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the First Reading for All Saints’ Day recorded in Revelation 7:

9After these things I looked, and behold! a great multitude, which no one was able to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice, saying, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. 11And all of the angels were standing in a circle around the throne and the elders and the four winged-creatures and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying, Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen. 13And one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in white robes, who are they and from where have they come?” 14And I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15On account of this, they are before the throne of God and they worship Him day and night in His temple, and the One sitting on the throne will spread His tent over them. 16They will not hunger anymore nor will they thirst anymore, and neither should the sun fall on them nor any scorching heat, 17because the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and will lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes.”

Dear Saints in Christ,

          I wonder if you are feeling at all the way I am these days. I’m tired. Most nights I don’t sleep all that well. I’m stressed. At times I feel overwhelmed and troubled. We’ve been living under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic for almost eight months now. The lockdowns, the isolation, the disruption of routines and life weigh heavy on people. And we are some 48 hours away from Election Day. The country will go to the polls and vote for the President of the United States and other state and local leaders. Throughout the past months and weeks, we’ve seen and heard and read . . . hate, negativity, slander, lies, half-truths—from all sides. And who knows what will follow Tuesday’s election? As a citizen, I find it so hard even to watch and listen to the news, much less read it. I just want information about the world I live in. Instead, I get more stress, more worry, more fear, more uncertainty, and more unkindness.

          Do you relate to these feelings? We need some comfort. We need a vision of hope that things will be better. This life cannot be our goal!

          The writer of the letter to the Hebrews wrote in chapter 12, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1–2 ESV). We are blessed to have the witness of St. John in our First Reading this morning. He, too, needed a vision of comfort.

          Why would John need a vision of comfort and hope? Some context will be helpful here. In Revelation 5, John was permitted to see the Ascension of Christ from heaven’s point of view. Remember, he saw it from the earthly side, as Jesus bodily ascended into heaven forty days after Easter and a cloud hid Him from the disciples’ sight. It is the Risen and Ascended Christ who received from God the Father a scroll sealed with seven seals. The purpose of Jesus receiving the scroll and then revealing its contents to John, and through John to the Church, is to strengthen the Church’s faith and to encourage the Church, in the midst of all the sufferings of this life, to remain faithful to Christ and ultimately attain the promise of everlasting glory.

          But what is visually depicted for John is anything but glorious. It is a vision of horror, tribulation, suffering, and fear from the time of Jesus’ Ascension to His Coming Again. I can’t go into all the details in our time together this morning, but here’s a taste of what John was shown by Jesus.

  1. Tyranny, which is won and acquired by power and force, by warfare; people using a dictatorial rule who exploit, enslave, dominate, and terrorize. Human freedoms are the exception.
  • Blood-letting of every kind, through warfare and unlawful killing and murder. Peace and tranquility will be the exception.
  • A condition of both scarcity and plenty, an economic imbalance in the supply of food and the necessities of life.
  • Death and the grave, which are the result of tyranny, bloodshed, and scarcity.

It’s a heart-stopping picture of woe and lament, even for God’s people. Until the End, there will be horror, tribulation, suffering, and fear. There will be plague and pestilence. Humanity will be against itself and cause harm and death. Such a vision does help us to be realistic about life here and now. The Lord doesn’t want us to live in a fool’s paradise. Nor does He want us to think that all this suffering and horror is our end. Our end, our goal, is to share in Jesus’ exalted glory. No matter what we suffer, Jesus will defend us and keep us until He takes us to Himself.

          And that’s the beautiful, comforting, hope-filled message of Revelation 7. John (and you and I) need a Gospel break from the events that we have been show, from the events in which we are living now. So we are given, from John’s eyes to the written Word, this vision of comfort.

          This vision has two parts. In Revelation 7:1-8, John sees God’s people on earth as they are ready to carry out their mission and thus enter the valley of the shadow of death. But John sees them sealed. John witnesses the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament by which the Christian is kept in faith and protected in godly hope through all the troubles and sufferings and persecutions in this world. There can be no doubt that the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the one, true faith by means of the Word, Baptism, and Communion. It is through these gifts of God that the Spirit seals God’s people and confirms that they are indeed His people.

You are His people! That’s comfort. That’s His assurance to you that “I will never ever leave you; nor will I ever forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Never—not during pandemic, not during an election cycle, not during times of unrest and uncertainty, not in the hour of your death. Never. You are His. You belong to God in Christ. He is the One who died for your sins. He is the One who shed His blood for you to make you clean to stand before the Holy, Holy, Holy God forever.

And that’s the beautiful comfort of part two of John’s vision in chapter 7, the words of our First Reading. Hear these words again: 9After these things I looked, and behold! a great multitude, which no one was able to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice, saying, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. 11And all of the angels were standing in a circle around the throne and the elders and the four winged-creatures and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying, Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen. 13And one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in white robes, who are they and from where have they come?” 14And I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15On account of this, they are before the throne of God and they worship Him day and night in His temple, and the One sitting on the throne will spread His tent over them. 16They will not hunger anymore nor will they thirst anymore, and neither should the sun fall on them nor any scorching heat, 17because the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and will lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes.”

This is the Church Triumphant! This is the Church that has endured the worst of the common tribulations and sufferings that all Christians experience throughout history. This is the Church who has experienced the evil days immediately before Christ’s Second Coming. John gets a preview of the whole people of God in Christ Jesus in glory. John sees the Church as if she were already triumphant, as if she were already complete, just as she will be at the End of time.

And look how you—the Church—are described! Clothed in white robes and with palm branches in hand, praising God. The white robes symbolize the purity and righteousness of Jesus which has been given to you because of His blood shed on the cross. The heavenly crowd—you and the people of God—are depicted waving palm branches. These were used in victory celebrations. The crowd waved palms as Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly. You and I and all the people of God are victors in Christ. He has suffered and died in our place. He is risen from the dead. He is Lord. He is Christus Victor, Christ the Triumphant. And because you are united with Jesus in your Baptism, you will be victorious and triumphant too!

And this victory is solely because of the blood of the Lamb. Because of the redeeming death of Jesus Christ and because He will present us to the heavenly Father, on the Last Day, we will stand pure and holy in the presence of God. With our sins forgiven by the blood of Christ, clothed with the righteousness of the Lamb Himself, we will share in the victory of the Lamb before our Father in heaven.

Suffering, death, trouble, anxiety, tears, grief, and whatever else we face in the world are most certainly not our end. This is not our goal. As the Church Militant, the Church in Mission, we will continue to experience all these things including disease, pandemic, hatred, violence, economic imbalance, and all the rest until our Lord Christ returns. But return He will. Do not forget, then what you have seen in His Word. Your God will protect you as you carry out His mission here on earth. He won’t forsake you. He won’t permit you to lose faith and hope. He promises you joy and comfort when He brings you at last to the glorious citizenship of the Church Triumphant. That is your end, your goal—not suffering here on earth—but the glory of God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ. He will shepherd you and will lead you to springs of living water, and God will wipe away ever tear from your eyes. Amen.

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