Sunday, November 1, 2020 ~ All Saints Sunday – Pastor Teressa Sivers
The Book of Revelation…chapter 7…What an amazing painting—image—snapshot—picture (choose your word) that John of Patmos created for us through word in our scripture today! Wow! The throne of God, something John spent time describing earlier in the book, shines brighter than any light we could every imagine! It is more beautiful, more radiant, more glorious than any gemstone on the face of the planet! In the very center of that awesome throne of God’s presence is the sacrificed Lamb who is at the same time the living Shepherd. Around the throne stand those four creatures, also detailed earlier in the book, with many wings and many eyes. Along with them are the elders of the people and the messengers of God, the angels. John of Patmos returns to this painting of the throne room of God many times throughout the Book of Revelation, but each time the painting focuses on a different aspect of this amazing image. And in chapter 7, the focus is on the great multitude gathered before the throne—this uncountable gathering, beautifully and wonderfully diverse, composed of all nations, all cultures, all languages…all people. period!
And what is the uncountable multitude doing within the throne room of God? They are worshiping! This is a worship service, and it is a worship service like none other. It is not like the one we are gathered in today, where there are a robed pastor or two up front leading the service, with the congregation seated nicely in their pews, or home on the couch with slippers and coffee (no judgment!). No! In this worship service everyone has a robe! In this worship service everyone is ‘up front.’ In this worship service EVERYONE is the minister (that’s true today as well but that is for another time). And what are all these ministers doing? They are dancing and they are singing and they are waving their hands and waving palm branches. “Our God is an awesome God, who reigns from heaven above, with wisdom, power and love! Our God is an awesome God!” What an image!! Of course they are worshiping, giving thanks and praise to God, to the Lamb, to their Shepherd! They are sheltered in the living, glorious presence of God! In the Greek it is ‘tabernacled.’ We’ve spent some time with that verb lately. The Israelites in the Exodus…God giving directions for the building of God’s tent, God’s tabernacle, in order that God may abide, may dwell, within their midst. God seeking to tent among the people, to tabernacle. And here it is, the ultimate tabernacling! The people literally abiding in God’s very presence; no hunger or thirst, no pain or despair, no longer scorched by the ordeals of this world. God has wiped away every tear from their eyes. “Oh when the saints come marching in…Lord, I want to be in THAT number!” Woohoo! It is a party! It is pure worship!
However, this is not what we normally picture when someone mentions the Book of Revelation. It certainly isn’t the part that Hollywood likes to twist into making money. Revelation is better known for the chapter that comes before our reading today, chapter six. In chapter six, the four horsemen of the apocalypse come riding through: War, Famine, Plague and Death. They are followed by devastation and destruction—earthquake and fire and wind that destroy. The scene ends with all the powerful of the world and all the people of every social and economic level cringing in fear and horror, and crying out with a loud voice, “Who is able to stand?!?!?!”
Who is able to stand? Chapter seven is the answer to this question. Who is able to stand? The countless multitude before the throne of God from every corner of the earth, with God’s help, they are able to stand. The Book of Revelation, along with other scripture passages written in this vivid, apocalyptic style, are painting pictures with words for a very particular purpose. These books and passages seek to juxtapose—to place side-by-side—2 vivid realities.
One reality is the very real scorching ordeals of the world, where it does feel like those four horsemen are running rampant; sowing war, and devastating the environment, and creating pandemic, which all leads to death. This reality where the earth shakes and the hurricanes blow and the wildfires burn away all in their path. In this disturbing—and let’s face it, actually all too real imagery—the author names the ordeals the people are currently facing. The author doesn’t shy away from the fear and pain and instead paint sunny pictures. The author in essence says to the people, “I see you. I hear you. I am a witness to the ordeals you are facing. They are real and I will not pretend otherwise or diminish what you are experiencing. It is terrifying, like a horror movie.” Who is able to stand???!!
And then, the author shares another reality, one that is very, very real—God’s reality. John of Patmos lifts us up, above the scorching ordeals of this world, into the very presence of God. John holds us for a moment in pure Beloved Community. Do you remember last week’s sermon, based on Deuteronomy 34 (the death scene of Moses) and on the powerful closing words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his very last speech, on the Deuteronomy passage? “I have been to the mountaintop! I have looked over! And I have seen the Promised Land!” John is also on that same mountaintop, seeing the ultimate Promised Land. John paints a picture of this vision of the Beloved Community fully realized. John proclaims to the people in their struggles, “This is who we are! This is not just who we will be one day. This is who we are right now!” This is the promise of the Gospels, the promise of the resurrection, the promise of our All Saints’ Sunday celebrations. Our loved ones, our saints, are embraced in the fully realized Beloved Community—singing and dancing and sheltered and abiding in the very presence of God!
This is our promise too! As we do indeed stand with one foot in this world, full of beauty and wonder, and full of war and famine and plague and death, we also stand with one foot held in the very presence of God. We are in this world, but we are of the Beloved Community before the throne of God. Who is able to stand in these days? WE ARE! With God’s help, WE, the people of God, the Beloved Community, WE. ARE. ALBE. TO. STAND! Thanks be to God. Amen.