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“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
It’s fitting that we read a passage from the Book of Revelation on All Saints Day. People ask me about the book of Revelation more than any other book of the bible. And for a lot of people, the book of Revelation strikes a chord with what’s going on in the world these days. Revelation is this strange and foreboding book about the end of time when the foundations of the world that hold it all together give way to chaos and utter destruction.
There is a scroll in heaven with seven seals, and as each seal is opened, disaster is unleashed on the world. One seal is opened, and peace is taken from the earth and conflict and war are released. Another seal is opened, and famine consumes the earth. Another seal is opened and a pale horse, whose rider is death, is unleashed and Hades follows behind him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and with famine and with pestilence (that is, fatal epidemic disease). And that’s just the beginning. 1/3 of the world is destroyed by fire. 1/3 of the sea becomes blood, and a 1/3 of the living creatures in the sea die. 1/3 of the fresh water becomes toxic and many people die. The sun and moon are darkened, the stars fall, great earthquakes move mountains, and the people of the earth hide in caves and among the rocks with fear and foreboding of what’s coming on the earth.
You can see how a book like this would strike a chord with many today. Fires have burned something like 4 million acres in California this year, not to mention the other states that have been set ablaze. Hurricane Zeta just plowed through Louisiana. Civil unrest is at a level many of us have never seen, with no end in sight. Fatal epidemic disease! It seems like the world is coming apart at the seams and the foundations that hold it all together are giving way to chaos and utter destruction. The book of Revelation strikes a chord with the fear and foreboding of our present time.
But for early Christians at the time, the book of Revelation wasn’t meant to be foreboding and fearful. Life for the early Christians was already foreboding and fearful enough. Christians were hiding in seclusion behind locked doors because if they were caught, they would be thrown to the lions in the coliseum, or used as human torches to light the streets of Rome, or simply killed outright. The Roman emperor Nero blamed Christians for a great fire in Rome and unleashed systematic persecution across the city. And then the next emperor, Domitian, brought that persecution all the way across the Roman empire.
You see, it wasn’t the book of Revelation that was foreboding; it was life that was foreboding. Revelation simply pulled back the curtain so that we could see what was really going on.
And what John sees in heaven is not God wringing his hands that everything is falling apart. John doesn’t see God perplexed and worried about what he’s going to do. No, what John sees is that this chaos and destruction is the victory of the Lamb who was slain coming to earth, as God holds the whole world under the futility of its sin, until everyone who opposes him either repents or perishes. The scroll is in the hands of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who is opening the seals one after another. And that means those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb are not lost in all of this chaos and destruction and death. Instead, those who have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb already share in the Lamb’s victory!
Our reading today is a break in the action. In the middle of all of the destruction, John suddenly looks and there, before the throne, is a victory celebration. A great multitude that no one could count from every tribe and every nation dressed in white robes with the palm branches of victory in their hands, standing around the throne of God and the Lamb, crying out with a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” It’s like the end of a college football game when the fans pour onto the field and surround the winning team, and the band comes out and everyone starts to sing the fight song. “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” In the middle of all the chaos and destruction, there’s this victory celebration going on.
What’s going on here? Who are these people? “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear form their eyes.”
Sure, the foundations of the world may be coming loose, bringing great destruction, chaos, and death, but those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb are not lost. They are in the hands of Jesus, the one who raised the widow’s son. Do you remember the time Jesus was on his way into the town of Nain? As he was entering the town, a funeral procession was on its way out to the cemetery. The funeral was for a young man who had died. He was the only son of his mother, and his mother was a widow. And when he saw her, Jesus was moved with compassion. And he said to her, “Do not weep.” And then he put his hand on the bier, stopped the procession, and spoke to the dead man, “Young man, I say to you arise.” And the man who had died got up and began talking. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb are not lost. They are in the hands of Jesus, the one who raised Jairus’ daughter. Do you remember the time a man called Jairus came running to Jesus and fell at his feet? He said, “My daughter is near death. Come and lay your hands on her that she may be made well.” And as Jesus was on his way, some people from Jairus’ house came and said, “Your daughter is dead. Do not bother the teacher any longer.” But Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he pressed on. And when he got to the house there was great weeping, and Jesus said, “Why are you crying, she is not dead, but asleep.” And they all laughed at him. So Jesus put them all out of the house, went to the girl’s room, took her by the hand and said, “Little girl, I say to you arise.” And the girl got up and began speaking.
Those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb are not lost in all of the chaos, destruction, and death. They are in the hands of the Lamb, who was slain—the Good Shepherd, who saw the wolf coming and laid down his life for the sheep. Jesus went ahead of us into death and was raised from the dead, so that even death cannot take us out of his hands. In baptism, you have been clothed with Christ. And even though you die, nothing can stop you from following your Shepherd—the Lamb who was slain—into the resurrection of the dead. As Jesus says, (and listen to his words because he says this for you) “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb are not lost in all the chaos, destruction, and death. They have victory in the Lamb, who has defeated death, and who, by the blood of his cross, has purchased a people for God: the communion of saints. YOU!
All Saints’ Day is the celebration of Jesus’ victory. You might have noticed that we sang a victory song for the Lamb. This is the feast of victory for our God. For the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign, alleluia, alleluia! Today, we too gather around the victor, the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who gives us his body and blood shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins—a promise and a foretaste of his victory, the victory he won for you. And while the storms rage around us, we, like those saints who have gone before us, are not lost; we have a Shepherd, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. And “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”