Sunday, 5 November 2017

All Saints

BCP at Great Brickhill – All Saints – 5 November 2017

Reading Revelation 7:9—end

The great multitude in white robes

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

‘Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.’

11 All the angels were standing round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12 saying:

Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honour
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.

13 Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?’

14 I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’

And he said, ‘These are they who have come 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 “Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,”
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
“he will lead them to springs of living water.”
    “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’

Reading 1 John 5:1—3

Faith in the incarnate Son of God

5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

Gospel Matthew 5:1—12

5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

He said:
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


Today I have a clear choice, to preach on the Beatitudes, or to take my text from Revelation.

Thing about Beatitudes—Jesus not saying it is desirable to mourn, to be poor, to hunger or thirst. He is saying you have the assurance you will eventually be blessed if these things happen to you. Meek will inherit the earth—those who mourn will be comforted—the persecuted will inherit the Kingdom of heaven.

Reading from Matthew is set for All Saints. So is the glimpse of the end of the world in Revelation 7. The 7th seal is about to be broken. Just when we are expecting more apocalyptic destruction there is a pause. A ‘salvation interlude.’ The 4 angels at each corner of the world hold back the destructive winds—signs of God’s judgement—at least until God’s own people can be ‘sealed’ on their foreheads.

Initially the number is the often quoted 144,000—12,000 from each tribe of Israel. After that, John sees a ‘great multitude in white robes that no one could count.’ They come from every nation, people and language. Unlike some other faiths, Christianity is an inclusive and welcoming place for all.

These people stand in the presence of God and worship him. Their tribulations are over. Far from staining their robes with the blood of Jesus the lamb, their garments are now white as snow, and God will shelter them in his presence.

Notice the parallel here with the Beatitudes:

16 “Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,”
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
“he will lead them to springs of living water.”
    “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’

Or Psalm 23:

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    for ever.

Even though we find apocalyptic literature hard to take, still we can understand the promise of God. At the time when the vision of John the Divine was written down, the tribulations suffered by God’s people were terrifying. State sponsored persecution, torture and death. Social and economic marginalisation. These woes awaited those who refused to participate in the Roman economic and political system. For contemporary audiences, the promise of the future in God’s nearer presence and under the protection of his Son was likewise very real.

“Who is able to stand?” is the rhetorical question left dangling in the air following the breaking of the 6th seal. Interlude portrayed in today’s reading gives God’s people their answer to that question. We are the redeemed community, dressed in white, standing in God’s presence and worshipping him. By the end of the salvation interlude, we can confidently answer, as God’s people, “With God’s help, we are able to stand.”

In a strange reversal of identities, Jesus the lamb morphs into Jesus the Shepherd and Saviour.

17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be …our shepherd;
“he will lead …us to springs of living water.”
    “And God will wipe away every tear from …our eyes.”’

This last verse explains why the passage from Revelation is sometimes chosen for funerals. The language and style of revelation in general might be unfathomable and plain weird, but there’s no getting away from the promises laid out before us.

I am sure the Kingdom of Heaven will not involve us standing around in the huge multitude singing songs and waving palm branches, but you get the idea. What lies behind the imagery is the promise of the Father.

During my ordination training, my tutor declared Revelation his favourite book in the Bible. He took a 6-month sabbatical to write a commentary. The fact he ended up not writing a word was not, to his students like me, greatly surprising. I doubt this part of the NT represents regular reading for you, but perhaps we might learn from what we have heard today and try again to penetrate this strange and daunting literature for ourselves. Amen

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