Hold onto Hope – Lectionary 11/01/2020

The Epistle Lesson                                                                                 1 John 3:1-3

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

The New Testament Lesson                                            Revelation 7: 9-17

After this I looked, and 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. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and 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.”

Sermon Text

We live our life in the shadow. The light of the sun, the light of our humming electricity, all of this is just a twinkle. We look out on a world that is only a semblance of what it could be. Even the most bright and beautiful flower appears to us like a reflection in polished brass. A pall hangs over the creation, a diminution of the potential which it holds. We live our lives, full of joy and sorrow and all manner of emotions with only an inkling of what we truly could experience.

Creation, the good gift of God created long ago, suffers under the burden of its own brokenness. Death, pain, suffering, all manner of hardships – these are all symptomatic of something gone wrong. We are given in scripture, in its opening and closing chapters, as well as in parable and prophecy throughout both testaments, a dream of something else. A world where pain does not exist, where death is an impossibility, where God and humanity are not separated from one another, but live side-by-side in harmony with one another.

Any attempt to imagine such a world usually falls short. Even in our understanding of Heaven as expressed in scripture, we are forced to use finite terms to discuss something infinitely more complex than earth could ever allow for. We see precious metals and stones, we see gates and roads and walls, we conceive of the kingdom of God that will be in terms of palatial estates and material wealth. We conceive in grand terms, what can also simply be described as a garden, watered by God, and cared for by its inhabitants. A place of peace, of security, and which enjoys love in its unadulterated and freely given immensity.

All Saints Day is the day where we look around us and try and pierce the veil that hangs over us. Every Sunday is a little Easter, a moment when we remember the resurrection and find ourselves transformed. Every time we take of Communion we participate in the feast of the Lamb at the end of history, and in the Passion of the Christ long ago. Yet, today, All Saints Day, we look upward and ask God to show us a greater glimpse of what is to come.

We who are gathered here, we who live in the chaos of a broken world. We know that we are not yet in Heaven. There is no doubt, even in our brightest moments, that there is something greater that awaits us than this present existence. A rejuvenation of the world which has been drained again and again of its vitality. The moment when what is and what could be are no longer separated. When Heaven and Earth are united forever and ever, and the moment when God is no longer an invisible presence, but the light that illumines all things.

We are not alone in awaiting this reunion. All those who we have loved, and those we never had a chance to love. All those who have gone on to meet Christ ahead of us, they too live in anticipation of the day when all is settled, the day when peace returns to the universe for the first time. All our friends, all our family, even a great deal of our enemies – all who have cast themselves on the love of God – they wait for the day when the divide between the worlds drops away and all is as it should be.

The book of Revelation, esoteric and historically bound as it sometimes is, gives us several visions of what the World to Come is like. The blessed communion of the Saints, those who live with God presently, is envisioned as a great assembly clad in white. They are people from all nations, all tribes, men and women who have faced the hardships of life and come out the other side into God’s presence. They make up the bulk of the company of heaven, those who lived life, those who died, those who have been redeemed by the love of God and await the resurrection that is to come. They sing, they praise God, and they continue to love one another, to love we who are left behind, they continue to live and thrive beyond our sight.

Gathering together to worship, wherever it happens and however it happens, unites us with those who presently do so before the throne of God. When we pray for one another, we do so with the full company of the redeemed. When we praise God, we do so with choirs of believers both living and dead, and all the hosts of Heaven beside them. The love which we have for one another, the community which has begun here on Earth, can never be broken off – not even by the vicious hands of death.

Yet, we are here, and we mourn. Our recollection of our loved ones – the empty places they once inhabited – we cannot see them and pretend that we are not heartbroken to have them away from us. We, limited creatures that we are, depend on our senses to discern the world around us. Without seeing the face of our loved ones, without feeling their touch, without the sound of their voice, we are less than what we once were. John Donne, reflecting on the ringing of a church bell for a funeral, said it this way, “Each [person]’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in [hu]mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

We live in a world caught between two realities. What could be and what is. We have no means of really discerning what Heaven on Earth could look like. Our only way of seeing it is in the moments when we draw near to God, and when God draws near to us. In the deepest moments of our private prayers. In the taking of the bread and the cup. In the sad tones of our absent love one’s favorite song. In those moments, something can break through and reach out to us. We experience God, as close as out next breath, closer even than the space between one atom and another with our flesh.

The Incarnation was God’s grand gesture of outreach to us. In it humanity and Godhood could never be separated from one another. The Eternal Word of God, uniquely begotten of the Father, conceived of flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit. Heaven and Earth, together, inseparable. A foretaste of what we all might one day see played out across all of Creation. We take up bread and cup, we drink deep of the grace of God which is offered to us in this miraculous visitation. We celebrate a God who has bent Heaven itself down to bring us aid.

As we prepare ourselves to take of this blessing from God. As we lift our worries to our Redeemer and Sustainer. We should also begin to think in our hearts of those who have gone from us. Those who we know see Christ, not through obstructed as we currently do, but face to face – panim el panim. Those who loved us and who we loved, who now know the embrace of a God who keeps them from all pain and has wiped the tears from their eyes. Those who enjoy a world of bliss and peace with their Creator.

Remember them today, and let their memory inspire us to live our lives fully now. With the knowledge that they stand before God today we can draw strength that we too will someday do the same. All that we shared with them, the good times and the bad, are shining and redeemed as we can only begin to imagine now. The fragile flame of their legacy, it is in our hands now, it burns furtively in our hearts. Keep the flame lit, let us continue to make our love ones who have gone to Glory proud through our conduct, through our love of one another, our love for them.

And in the darkest moments when the shadows we inhabit seem to overtake us. When we do not seek out the light, because even it seems to mock our pain. When we lock ourselves behind the doors of our guilt, of our sorrow, of our pain. Let us hold out our hand and take a risk. Let us Hold onto Hope – the most elusive of gifts. Hope that trusts that God will reveal what we are to be. Hope that we will be reunited one day with the full company of Heaven. Hope that the long night will end, and that when the dawn comes, we will find ourselves in good company. And let our hope inspire us to pray continually for Christ to deliver us from our present condition. “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” – Amen.

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