I speak to you today in the name of the One who is, who was, and who is to come.
Today is the Feast of All Saints. I suppose I could just tell you that you and I all are saints along with all the saints venerated by the Church, which of course is true, and then I could just sit down. But I am not going to do that. Because our Scripture texts for the day are just too beautiful, too rich, for us to ignore.
The text that most grabs me is our second reading, from the Revelation to John. We often think of the Revelation as foreign, wild, impenetrable, even horrifying. Some of us may have heard it interpreted so as to scare the pants off of us. Read that way, it is not very welcoming, and avoiding it would be the better part of valor. But I myself like the hard parts of the Bible. They are the juicy bits, because they pose a challenge for interpretation.
But today’s lesson from the Revelation is not horrifying, not off-putting, not scary. It is comforting. It is the Balm that indeed there is in Gliead. It is about saints long ago and far away, and saints here and now, up close and personal. About all those throughout time and space, including of course you and me, and all who confess the Name of Jesus.
So here are some of the themes in the text I want us to think about this evening. You might want to look at the passage as it is printed in your bulletin. Here we find three promises: the promise of a new creation that brackets the whole passage [v 1: “a new heaven and a new earth”; again in v 5: “See, I am making all things new.”]; the promise of God’s presence [the first half of the voice from the throne, v 3: “God will dwell with them…”); and the promise of suffering overcome [the second half of the voice from the throne v 4: God will “wipe every tear away…and death will be no more…”].
The first promise: God is doing a new thing. Sounds great. We like new and improved things. The ancient world did not. A long-standing pedigree was important. So notice: the new thing God does here does not contradict the former thing God did in the past. It is the city of Jerusalem, not some other city in the Ancient Near East. It could have been, I suppose, but God recreates the people He already has chosen. And along the same line, the New Testament does not outrank, stifle, or abrogate the Old Testament. After all, the message that God is doing a new thing runs throughout the Scriptures of the people of Israel. Even if we look only to the prophets: Is 42:9; 43:19; 48:6; 65:17; 66:22; Jer 31:31; Ezek 11:19; 36:26, etc.
The second promise is that God is with us. Sometimes our world, indeed our hearts, can in fact be frightened and frightening, full of pain, afflicted by suffering. To the casual reader of any world newspaper, violence appears to reign. It seems that at every turn we hear of another mass shooting, or African Americans being beaten and killed by those who are meant to protect us all. I could go on, as you know, but I won’t. You know the tragedies as well as I. Sometimes it seems that God is NOT with us. Nevertheless that is the promise of God through Scripture: God is with us.
At ECY we are trying to grapple with the issue of our culture’s thirst for violence. We have begun to organize a project that I hope all of you will participate in. We will be trying to have a conversation about our nation’s bent towards violence. Think about it: we spend huge amounts of money and time indulging in it. We watch it on TV; we play it out in electronic games; we perpetrate it in subtle and not-so-subtle ways in our relationships. And as we struggle with the matter of violence in our own country, we find that it is tied to the very grave injustices of poverty and racism. This we cannot turn away from. As Christians we are called to expose to light the evil that lies hidden in the shadows.
The third promise here is that even our pain, our tears, our sorrows will be wiped away. It is not for nothing that today’s reading from the Revelation to John is one of the Scripture texts in the Burial Service in our Book of Common Prayer. Mourners at the funeral of a loved one hear this:
“[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away…Behold, I am making all things new”.
Part of God’s recreating is overcoming all violence, all sorrow, even the places in us that we would prefer to hide from everyone, even ourselves. God is recreating not just the heavens and the earth, but also the saints, and we know that means all of us too. We are being changed from glory into glory (a phrase from 2 Cor 3:18). Being changed from glory into glory is the only way we can shed God’s light into the “Dark Side”.
We are indeed changed from glory into glory. But the new things God does are never detachable from the former things God did. And that is true of us, also. In our transformed identity we will still be recognizable as us in God’s future. God doesn’t want to turn us into somebody else, into someone we are not. God just wants to transform us. We are most truly ourselves when we are most truly God’s. When our life is hidden with Christ in God.
And that recreation begins to happen here at the altar. We eat of the Body of Christ and so are nourished in His love. We drink the Blood of the Lamb and so are empowered in His life. We are able to confront the devils of our world, like violence and oppression, in the might of Jesus’ cross and in the promise of the empty tomb. We can, as saints, shed the rays of light that come forth from that empty tomb. We can speak a word of hope into a world torn by violence. “Behold, I make all things new.”
In the Name of the one God who promises that healing presence always, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.