After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, 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
The first Sunday in November many churches commemorate All Saints. In worship, they will honor those faithful who have died in the past year with some ritual or ceremony of remembrance. The readings for this day – which is actually November 1 on the liturgical calendar – are hopeful lections, designed to move us toward a sense of trust in God’s promise of a time of blessedness.
I am especially drawn to the reading from Revelation, primarily for its inclusivity. It never fails to make me wonder how we are going to live together in heaven, if we can’t even seem to live peacefully together on earth.
When anyone asks what my vision for the church is, without hesitating I answer with this passage from Revelation cited above, of the “great multitude from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples, and languages.”
Yet I think of this image with a mixture of sadness and bewilderment, when I hear of white nationalist demonstrations such as the ones which took place this past weekend in Tennessee. The hatred that seems to be saturating our society is troubling, at the very least. It is a far cry from that heavenly vision that the author of Revelations describes for us.
Of course, hate is not limited to any one race or group. By now, we’ve seen more than our share of extremism, violence, and tragedy, in the name of any number of causes or ideologies, be they religious or secular. The most recent massacre in Las Vegas immediately comes to mind.
The noted church historian and theologian, Justo González, in his book, For the Healing of the Nations, writes about the book of Revelation in an age of cultural conflict. In writing about this passage, he tells the story of his father-in-law, who likes to read mystery novels by reading the last chapter first, and then reading the rest of the book to see how the author arrived at his intended end. That’s obviously not the way we read books, but it is a way to understand why certain things happen along the way.[i]
Our challenge as Christians is to look beyond the hate, look beyond the extremist views, and pray and work for a time when all God’s people will live in peace and harmony with each other; not at some time in the future in heaven, but here, in the present on earth. We cannot remain unaware of the injustice around us as long as people are being singled out for the color of their skin or the accent with which they speak.
As people of God, we are called and commissioned to participate in God’s ongoing and miraculous work to heal, comfort, and restore this world. That is one reason why we worship.
Our worship is a rehearsal of that which awaits us in heaven. It is our way of proclaiming a kingdom of justice, love and peace.
And when we worship, we hear God’s Word; we share in the Holy Meal, we partake of Christ’s body and blood, and are strengthened so that we may go out and transform the world, to show the unbelievers the goal and future of a life in Christ.
On All Saints Sunday, it is a custom at most congregations to commemorate those who have died in the past year. So, in our weekly devotions, we at the Lutheran Center will remember those rostered ministers who faithfully served in our synod and entered the church triumphant over the past year. If any of the following saints served in your congregation at any time during their ministry, we ask that you remember them in your commemorations as well.
† The Rev. Kenneth J. Anderson 8/31/2017
† The Rev. G. Duane Culler 3/25/2017
† The Rev. Walter B. Heber 7/22/2017
† The Rev. Gerald L. Keller 11/25/2016
† The Rev. Diane S. Lundgren 3/13/2017
† The Rev. Richard M. Shibley 2/4/2017
† The Rev. Joyce E. Taipale 8/24/2017
† The Rev. Richard D. Warger 11/26/2016
[i] Justo González, For the Healing of the Nations, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999) p. 98