Feast Day: All Saints’ Day (A)
Readings: Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
“Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints’ Day. This is an important feast especially for us modern Western Christians. Our temptation is to be good materialists. That is, to live as if the material world is all that there is. But on a feast day like today, even if just for a moment, the veil is pulled back and we are granted a view into the throne room of God in heaven. And we are reminded that the Church on earth and the saints who are in heaven have been “knit together…in one communion and fellowship.” Moreover, we are reminded that this vision of the happiness of the saints with God is the goal for us as well and that in order to get there we must follow in their footsteps of godly living and virtue.
In our reading from Revelation this morning we with St. John are granted spiritual insight, a view into heaven. And what do we see? “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.” Just as in the gospels crowds of common people gathered excitedly around Jesus so too in heaven the innumerable sea of saints find their centre in Christ, the Lamb of God.
And what are they doing, this crowd that cannot be counted? They are crying out in a loud voice, all their distinct voices now joined into one chorus of insatiable praise: “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
There is more. Joining in with the saints are all the angels and heavenly creatures who fall on their faces and lend their voices also: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” This is undoubtedly a scene of festive joy. These are those who have entered into the unspeakable joy of the Lord.
Here’s the thing, St. John wants us to know that this is happening right now. If somehow the Lord could pull back the veil that separates heaven and earth, this is what you would see. And if you could be granted a momentary glimpse into the never ending adoration of Christ that is happening in the throne-room of heaven at this very moment, I guarantee that you would be changed forever. Everything would suddenly fall into place and things that matter very much to you now would fade in the light of this incomparable joy.
Actually, we do get a glimpse of this every time we come to church. When we participate in the liturgy we are participating in this very heavenly chorus. Take for example, the Sanctus which we sing each week: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.” The Bible tells us that this is precisely the unbroken song of praise that the saints and heavenly creatures sing (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). And our own liturgy instructs us: “Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name.”
When we pray, and read Scripture, and sing, and break bread, we are not just a small group of believers gathered together in a church north of Barrie. When we do this we ourselves are caught up into the throne-room of God Almighty. When we do this our voices are taken up into the unbroken chorus of praise that is offered to the Lamb by that uncountable number of saints, surrounded by every single angel that ever was. With angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven! Whenever we gather for worship there is God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Who are these saints in John’s vision anyways?And where did they come from? “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal/tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” (7:14).
The saints in heaven, who forever sing God’s praise, are those who have endured the great tribulation. Whatever else that might mean it means at least this: the blessedness of the Christian life does not preclude suffering. In fact, to be a Christian is to suffer with Christ. We cannot enter into his joy apart from entering into his suffering. And yet Christ’s suffering transforms our own suffering. His suffering was the beginning of a new creation. He died that we might live. So to suffer with Christ is to live with Christ, to rejoice with Christ over the power of sin and death.
That our life is hidden in Christ’s death is one of the great paradoxes of the faith but it is a truth that the lives of the saints attest to. Take St. Ignatius of Antioch for example. Ignatius was a first century bishop of Antioch. En route to Rome as a prisoner, where he would meet his martyrdom by being fed to lions, he wrote a series of letters to the Christian Church in Rome. In one of those letters he begs the Christians in Rome not to interfere and try to save him from his impending death. “My birth pangs are at hand,” he writes. “Bear with me, my brothers. Do not hinder me from living: do not wish for my death…Allow me to receive the pure light; when I arrive there I shall be a real man.”
What paradox! For St. Ignatius, to suffer and die for Christ is to live. To suffer with Christ in this way is to be made “a real man.” Even in the face of death he senses birth pangs, new life. Now I have no interest in holding martyrdom up as an ideal nor do I think that the only way to be a saint is to literally lose your life for Christ.
However, there is a way in which each and every Christian suffers and dies with Christ in order to be made “a real man.” I’m talking about the sacrament of holy baptism wherein we are washed and made clean by the blood of the Lamb. That is to say, in baptism human creatures are made clean by the Cross and brought from death into life, sin into righteousness in and with and through Christ.
In baptism you are made a saint. Now, if you truly know yourself you might think otherwise. Can I really be called a saint? Even I? Well, listen to the words of St. John in the epistle that was read this morning: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are,” (1 John 3:1). If you are baptized then you have objectively been made a child of God. And as such you have been invited to enter into the fullness of joy that is yours in Christ. And as such you are one with the saints, you are a saint indeed.
The task for us now is to persevere. To endure. To walk in the way of blessedness that we might enter into the eternal blessedness of our Lord. To receive that crown of glory that fadeth not away. Because here’s the thing, everything else in your life is fading away, even now. In the end nothing will last except for the love that you have for Christ and for one another. That alone will last. Not your career, not your reputation, not your net-worth, not your family name. Your love of Christ and of one another, that will last. That will never fade away.
And therein lies the catch of Christian endurance. The secret to persevering with the saints and entering into the joy of the Lord fully and finally. The only way to follow the saints in godly living is to fall deeper in love with Christ Jesus. Only those who have tasted the joy of the Lord can withstand the trials and tribulations that will come their way.
If you are here because you really love the music, or the preaching (hopefully you don’t mind the preaching), or because you really love the community, let me say that you are most welcome here and I sincerely hope you continue to come but let me say that that is not enough. Because when push comes to shove, when the rubber meets the road, when your faith is really put to the test and adversity and trouble come your way on account of Christ, no love of music, or preaching, or community will sustain you. You will stand or fall on the basis of your love for Christ Jesus, the Lamb upon the Throne. If you adore Christ, if his beauty and goodness and love is what feeds and sustains you then there is nothing that you cannot endure for his sake.
So let me finish by asking: have you yourself tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord? Do you know the joy of being one of Christ’s beloved? Has your faith become stale? Cold perhaps? Today, may the witness of the saints in heaven reignite your own love of Christ. May you look up with St. John and be granted a glimpse of that heavenly chorus to which we join our voices even now. And may the joy of that scene, the joy of the Lamb, flood your heart and mind and enable you to follow in the footsteps of the saints and come to those unspeakable joys that God has prepared for those who love him. Amen.