In the Book of Revelation, John hears, and sees, the broad based universal multitude of every tribe and nation, street-ful after street-ful, of those chanting and singing to God and to the Lamb. “I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count,” says John, “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,” and were joined by “all the angels, singing, Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!”
This is the Hymn of Praise we sang this morning as we gave thanks, and remembered our baptisms, in the beginning of the service. Revelation is full of songs and praises, full of beautiful and awesome symbolism and images, containing both auditory and visual art, and one of the most quoted in ours, and many liturgical traditions. And so, this is not a book of history, or some kind of ‘script for the end-times,’ as it is so often miss-used. As for those who have been trying to predict the apocalyptic end of the world, for the last couple hundred years, adjusting and readjusting the date, and so far, failed, each and every time, Revelation has been a key source for their predictions. But only because they think it’s about them! That the end will conveniently happen in their life-time. I say, lighten up! Understand that the terrifying description of battles is a kind of symbolic language for the war God is waging against the Devil. And listen to the beauty of the Hymn of Praise and see the wonderful images that invite us to join the banqueting feast of victory, yes, in our own life time, but also in every age, and for all time. The Victory, in Christ is assured, in the end. Whenever the end will be! Christ has triumphed, and that liberates us today, and gives us great freedom to live our lives every day with courage and confidence.
Join the victory celebration of good news. Bang the drum! This is what the realm of God looks like!
And, this is what the Beatitudes celebrate. Again, not literally, but symbolically, and proleptically. That is, they reach back from God’s assured victory in the end, into our own lives now, inviting us to be confident and courageous in our victory in Christ. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers, for theirs is the realm of God.” In Jesus’ eyes, this multitude of the faithful, all these saints, the street-full of the multitudes, are blessed now, and held in the palm of God’s hand until the final victory.
God works in a world of symbolism, as well as our flesh and blood lives. God slays the dragon and fights the enemies that surround us. The powers of evil that seek to turn our world against the good, and the just, and those banqueting together in peace, confront a strong and righteous savior, ‘the Lord of lords, and the King of kings.’
In Revelation, it looks like that will be the lion, for the first 5 chapter of the book. The lion, especially in the symbolic world of Apocalyptic literature, was usually the Victor, the great and terrible beast who was undefeatable. And that looks like how the story is going to go, until we get to this section, in Revelation. And then, with an unusual surprise and reversal, it’s not the lion, but in our common Christian story, it’s the Lamb, the one who brings us out of the great ordeal. We who “have washed [our] robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” we are saved by a Victorious – lamb! Jesus is the Lamb, the little Lamb-kin, or, “Fluffy” as Lutheran Pastor Daniel Erlander says tongue-in-check, who brings us victory not by a great a terrible apocalyptic conflict or war, but in the end, by his shed blood. By giving his life, lifted up on the cross – foolishness to us, as St Paul says – the Lamb, the innocent creature with no ‘mark’ of triumph or victory – except, to our eyes, the ‘mark of the nails in his hands, and the spear in his side.’ This is our savior, an agent of God’s purposes to transform the world.
BTW- Have you seen the “Spoon River” performance yet? Tonight’s the last performance! I saw the matinee yesterday with my mom and my sister and brother-in-law, and loved the large and talented cast, each one playing a multitude of characters, who tell their stories, one by one, as they rise up from their graves in the cemetery – symbolically of course! And oh, what a story they have to tell! One or two with sweet or happy endings, but more often, scandalous in their honesty, of lives filled with betrayal, secrets, deep wounds and unresolved pain. These are our lives too. The existential reality of our human nature with all its longings and hurt, our lives in the shape of questions that can only be answered, and ultimately fulfilled, in the feast of victory prepared for us by the Lamb who was slain, and has already begun his reign. In knowing the end we gain courage and confidence for the journey. With that confidence, we can join in the Hymn of Praise from Revelation: “Blessing, honor, glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen.”
In our song of praise on this All Saints Sunday, we lift up two names of those saints who died from our multitude this year, Jim Taylor and Harry Stillwell, they who now dwell with all the saints who have gone before us. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” Jesus declares to us! And so we also lift up all those loved ones you have written in the Book of Names, and they will be read aloud, as we confidently and courageously sing “Blest are They,” and as we light candles and offer prayers, as we receive anointing for healing and wholeness, as we march around to the prayer areas, a great multitude, surrounded by all the saints, above and below. We hear the blessings, and we see the heavenly host, and we join our Alleluia’s with all of their alleluia’s.
It’s a spiritually deep and unique celebration, knowing “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.” Bang the drum, and, “Tell me what the realm of God looks like?” This is what the realm of God looks like!