All Saints Sunday
Revelation to St. John the Divine 21: 1-6
Gospel of St. John 11:32-44
Good morning and grace and peace this morning of All Saints Day. A highlight of the church year and always a wonderful service here at St. Andrew’s. With thanks to Peter and the Choir and the Orchestra and our good friend Tom Octave. Your participation and offering makes this day exceptionally meaningful. A real gift. Of course, always meaningful for us as we remember the great saints and heroes of our Christian family, known through the generations for their holiness of life and their courage and witness.
Remembering as well as we do in our prayers today the saints and heroes and loved ones nearest to us. Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. Perhaps most of them not to be commemorated with statues and stained glass windows in their honor and special feast days on the calendar--but in our hearts and minds dear to us and remembered as inspirations each in their own way of faithful Christian life and God’s love. Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and may Light Perpetual shine upon them. May they with all the faithful departed rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.
The reading this morning from the opening of the 21st chapter of the Revelation of St. John the Divine always so powerful—and most appropriate on All Saints Day. It was suggested to me several years ago and I have made it a part of my regular devotional pattern once each month or so to sit quietly for a few minutes in a morning or evening prayer time and to re-read the 21st and 22nd chapters of the Revelation to St. John the Divine.
A magnificent set-piece of Christian testimony and witness, with language and a poetry and a great and encompassing vision that settles deeply into the imagination. A word of comfort, of encouragement, of inspiration. Fuel for the tank as we go about the day to day unfolding of our lives in our homes and with our families, at work, with our friends, in the quiet of our own inner space of thought and feeling. I have found it so, and I would commend that practice and discipline to you, actually, on this All Saints Day. When we have a challenging journey it can be helpful to be able to picture our desired destination. To have the mountain-top in mind as we face the steep climb in front of us. For me it’s also like hitting the “refresh” button, to shift the metaphor. Re-centering. Maybe something to do on the first day of every month, for a year, as an experiment, and to see what strikes you over time, as you let these words and this imagery of the great victory of God come again and again to your attention. This victory that we are and will be a part of. Each time of reading and re-reading, to see something new, or from a new perspective. To go deeper.
This vision of John the Seer-- of the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven from God. I find this turns the imagery around for me, in terms of what I had usually pictured in my mind when I thought about God’s Kingdom. I thought, to use the phrase, that “we would go to heaven.” But that’s not what John sees.
In the great day of God’s victory, heaven comes to us, here, to earth, the Holy City, and as it arrives the earth itself is transformed and the lives of all God’s faithful are met and drawn into him. Not that we sail up into the skies, riding on otherworldly clouds to God’s presence. Instead, as the voice announces to John, “See, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them.” A parent hears that a child is in distress, and drops everything and rushes to be at the child’s side. “God himself will be with them, he will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The victory of the Cross displayed right here. To answer the question of Good Friday, “why does this have to happen?” Remember Jesus in John 12, as inscribed here on the great Rood Beam, “and I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.” The embrace of the Father for the Son, and his arms wrapped around us, as we in and through Jesus receive the free gift of God’s love: his forgiveness, his generosity and abundance. Ask and ye shall receive. Knock and door will open unto you.
Read the 21st and 22nd Chapters of John’s Revelation to see what that New Jerusalem is, that is ours, flowing with the restoring and renewing waters of the River of Life. The towering trees of the New Garden, fresh and green and with leaves that are for the healing of the nations. Come unto me, all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.
And then we consider in the Gospel reading appointed for this morning the Sign of Lazarus. Come out of the tomb, Lazarus! Again right before our eyes, the token of God’s promise for each of us. They fit together, hand in glove, these two readings: one word of transformational triumph. That life is changed, not ended. The whole creation. Fallen and then lifted up. The gate of our suffering and death, the portal to his great conclusion. The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Trustworthy and true. Making all things new.
What a great gift. For all the Saints. Beyond any words, any sentence that we could compose in reply. No adequate expression of thanks and appreciation. Almost impossible even to describe in words. Perhaps music--Franz Schubert and the transcendence of music only a step in the direction. I know this particular mass setting is not considered to be one of the most complicated of Schubert’s works. But a certain expression for me of a quieter grace. The Kyrie sung at the beginning of the service just a few minutes ago always touches so deeply. A reminder in one kind of beauty of that deeper wonder that the psalmist calls “the beauty of holiness,” which is God’s eternal and life-giving presence. Coming for us and for our salvation in the victory of the Last Day, and with us now. In our prayers, in the Word of Holy Scripture. In the Holy Food and Drink at the Table of the Lord’s Supper. A presence that we can know perfectly in the face of his Son. Always near when we call. Who despite our unworthiness and our persistent sin went to the Cross for us, and who has opened this door for us.