Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
All Saints’ Day (transferred to Nov. 7, 2010)
TITLE: “Who are these?”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for All Saints Day is from Revelation chapter seven. We focus on St. John’s question to the angel: Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?
Some years are more focused on death than others. This past year here at Messiah, we’ve only had one member of our church family who died in Christ, namely, Sandra Russo. There have been other years where there have been more, sometimes as many as half a dozen. But whether we’re talking about one person or half a dozen, there is almost always going to be a fair amount of the congregation that are going to ask the question: who was that person?
It is amazing sometimes how often we can sit together in church, receive Christ’s body and blood together, and look forward to an eternity in heaven with each other’s company, and yet barely know each other’s names. Or perhaps you know a name, but barely anything beyond that. Yet each one of you have a life, a history, a family, you have a sense of belonging and place here in Christ’s Church. It’s just that we sometimes don’t know each others stories.
But there is something about death which raises the question, who are you? What makes you who you are? What is important to you and defines you day in, day out? On a day like today, when we look back at the saints who have gone before, this is an important question. How are you different from everyone else in the world? What shapes your very life?
Now when you get right down to it, this is the question which St. John is asking in our text. St. John is having a vision of heaven. He sees the host arrayed in white, as we sang about it a few minutes ago in our hymn (TLH 656). This host, this army dressed in white, come from every tribe and language, every people on earth. They carry palm branches in their hand, the symbol of victory in the ancient world, and the sign of royalty. You would put palm branches down on the road to hail the victorious king, just like we do on Palm Sunday right before Jesus’ death. This army thing sings the song Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb! John, who is amazed at their number, asks the angel who are they and where did they come from.
I think St. John’s question to the elder that is there is a great one. Who is the church? What makes them who they are? Or to ask it another way, what makes a saint a saint? When the world says someone is a saint, they mean that the person is or was loving and thoughtful, generous and caring toward others. They might even mean someone who led a life described in the beatitudes from our Gospel reading this morning.
But when the Scriptures talk about what it means to be a saint, they do not mean what the the world means by a saint. The elder in our Revelation text describes it perfectly: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” In other words, dear friends, a saint is someone who is washed and made clean by the blood of Christ. A saint is someone who died in the faith of Jesus Christ.
There is great comfort in this for sinners like you and me. There are no classes of Christians in God’s sight. You, dear friends, are in the great tribulation, just like the ones in our text. We look at the beginning or the middle of the journey; they look back upon the journey. But you, dear Christian, you are washed in the waters of Holy Baptism. Your baptism is your robe of righteousness, and you have been made clean and white in the blood of the lamb.
He who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. As we stand before the judgment seat of God, there is only one thing that will save us: the presence of Jesus Christ. In other words, you are not alone! The thousands upon thousands of white-robed martyrs are safe. Why? Because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd. Now that’s a switch. The helpless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, He is the one who will shepherd them. Jesus doesn’t let anyone else take His place in your life. Only He can guard you and protect you. Only He can guard and protect our loved ones who died in the faith. As Solomon once wrote, the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. (Wisdom 3:1)
Jesus will be their shepherd. But like the life of Jesus itself, the life of the Christian on earth may not look so pretty. As the hymn said, “On earth their work was not thought wise, But see them now in heaven’s eyes.” When we look at the life of the Christian on earth, it is a life that is despised and scorned. The Christian is mocked as old-fashioned and out of step with the world. I’ve heard Christians derided because we don’t look at money the same way as the world, or raising children, or countless other things that make the world hate us. In the early Church, the pagans thought that Christians ate their God in a horrific meal. Today, Christians are harsh and judgmental because we believe that the life of an unborn child is precious, and that life is more important than the so-called “right to choose”. Christians are seen as dumb and foolish, or as just plain weird. And looking through the eyes of the world, that’s all true.
But we don’t look through the eyes of the world. We look through the eyes of Jesus. And what does He see? Jesus sees His beloved children; He sees His little lambs that He bought with His own blood. Jesus sees you and me as His brothers and sisters. He looks at you and says, blessed. Remember that word. The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace. You are blessed by God.
So it is that we remember God’s family in heaven and on earth. We remember them in the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion. For it is here, at this altar, that heaven and earth come together. In old Norweigan churches the communion rails were in the shape of a half-circle. The idea was that the communion continues around into heaven. That is the whole Church, my friends. When we commune at this altar, we join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. We commune with Christ, and so we join with all the saints of heaven in singing his praises. Sing His praises, for He is the one who died and rose again for you, and for all the saints who have gone before us!
Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from? These are the saints of God who have gone before us in the faith. And one day, O Christian, one day, O Baptized, one day you will join them. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.