All Saints’ Day this year makes me think about Pat. She was the only member of Good Shepherd to depart to be with the Lord since All Saints’ Day last year. Many of you probably didn’t know Pat. During the last several years she wasn’t able to come to church because of her health. Prior to that she came to first service and sat back there on the right side. Each Sunday this tiny little woman, shorter still because of how twisted over her spine was, would shuffle into church.
It is safe to say that Pat had a hard life. Her marriage ended in divorce and was not a happy one. With the exception of one dear niece, her family largely ignored her or worse yet, took advantage of her. She experienced a whole series of health issues that left her disabled and in chronic pain. She lived on a fixed income in public housing and at times didn’t have enough money to buy food.
But my enduring memory of her was how much it meant for her to come here to church. In those last years Pats was so disappointed that she could no longer attend the Divine Service. She was so appreciative of the visits that brought her Christ’s Word and Sacrament. And when Good Shepherd bought a copy of the Lutheran Study Bible for her she cherished it as she read it all the time. Every visit, there was some new discovery she had made that she wanted to share with me.
Pat’s life was filled with hardships. Yet in the midst of those her source of hope and peace was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus was her source of comfort. It was on the day she died, for I visited with her earlier that day and she expressed this yet again. And today, as we observe All Saints’ Day, we rejoice that Pat like all the saints who have died in the Lord is with Christ. She is at peace and for her the struggles are a thing of the past. Our Lord, created faith and preserved her to the end. In this we find comfort and encouragement, because he has promised to do the same for us as well.
That comfort and encouragement is what we find in our text for All Saints’ Day. We find comfort and encouragement in the knowledge that our family and friends are with the Lord. And we also find comfort and encouragement as we see what awaits us as we walk in faith.
The book of Revelation is, at the same time, one of the most difficult books in the Bible to understand and also one of the most comforting. It is difficult because of its genere. It is a piece of apocalyptic writing. This means that as God’s revelation it does take a particular form that is recognizable. God makes a revelation to John that is expressed in ways that bear a similarity to things you find in the Old Testament books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah. These are features that other writers outside of the Scriptures had also used in rather consistent ways.
Because of this background, there are certain things that we can expect in Revelation. It will be filled with dramatic imagery, much of which will convey some specific meaning because of its biblical background. It will not narrate something in a straight line, but will retell some basic ideas with variations. It will express things in ways that are meant as much for the emotional impact as for the intellectual content. And related to this point if you are looking for certainty about the interpretation of every detail, you are in the wrong book. There are going to be places where we may not be exactly sure. That’s ok. It doesn’t change the fact that we understand the important things Revelation is saying.
The book of Revelation begins with Jesus Christ. That’s important to remember. John sees one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. He tells us that the hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire; his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” John is scared to death, but Jesus says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last,
and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Then he tells John to write down the revelation.
In chapter four John has seen an awesome revelation of God on his throne surrounded by twenty four elders and six winged living creatures that never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” Then in chapter five John saw that God had a scroll that was sealed with seven seals. It seemed that no one could open the seals and John began to weep about this. But then, one of the elders said to him, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then John saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. He took the scroll and the elders and creatures sang, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
Just before our text Christ has opened the first six seals. What is released is a description of the time in which we live … these last days that began with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” bring war, disease, famine and death. We hear about the martyrs who cry out, “Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
Living in this world, it is easy to become discouraged. It is easy to become frustrated. But these feelings also carry over into a breaking of the First Commandment: in a failure to trust God or in anger at God. We can lose our fervor for Christ’s gifts of the Means of Grace that sustain us. We can begin to drift away from his Church, day by day.
That happened to Pat. When I arrived at Good Shepherd, for the first year I never met her. Pat never came to church, and because she wouldn’t give us a phone number I wasn’t able to schedule a visit with her in my visitation of the congregation. Then one day I received a phone call that a member of Good Shepherd named Pat was in the Carbondale hospital. As I drove over, I thought, “What am I supposed to say to this woman?” When I got there, I walked into that hospital room and said: “Pat, we’ve never met. But I’m your pastor.” And God used that circumstance to teach me, because it was the beginning of Pat’s return to receiving his grace and forgiveness.
The events of Revelation chapter six were frightening. And in our text, John received a revelation that was meant to comfort and encourage. It does the same for us. He tells us: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,
and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” John sees saints from every nation clothed in white and holding palm branches – a symbol of victory.
Then one of the elders asked John, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” John said to him, “Sir, you know.” And the elder said to him, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Is John seeing the saints who are with Christ and awaiting the Last Day? Does he see those who are present on the Last Day? An argument can be made for either of these options. But it really doesn’t matter. Certainly, John speaks about Pat and every other believer who has died in Christ. They have come out of the great tribulation of this world. They are with the Lord. They are at peace because through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross they stand before God innocent and holy.
We currently live in the midst of the great tribulation. We face the struggle against sin and the devil. We suffer because of all that sin has done. But these words are there to give us comfort. They are there to give us encouragement and hope. In the first chapter John heard Jesus Christ say, “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Our Lord has conquered sin and death. Death cannot separate us from Jesus, just has it has not separated Pat. Instead, whether we die or whether our Lord returns we are going to come out this great tribulation and take our place in that multitude clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. The resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees it.
We will join Pat and all of those saints before the Lamb. Yes, the way of faith can be difficult. It does require effort to choose to come to church and receive the Means of Grace; to choose to take time out for devotions, Bible study and prayer. It is a way of sacrifice that follows our Lord in serving others. It is hard to live in ways that stand in opposition to our culture.
But this morning the risen Lord gives us hope. He gives us encouragement and strength. He shows us the goal towards which he is leading us – the goal for which his Spirit sustains us in the faith. We will join Pat and all the saints who have gone before us. And these words will be just as true for us as they now are for them: “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. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”