All Saints’ Day • Revelation 7:(2–8) 9–17 • November 7, 2010
by Kent Burreson
Getting to Know the White-Clad Relatives
The central question of chapter 7 in John’s vision, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” reminds me of the family gatherings of my youth. Even with the name Burreson—a small Norwegian clan, few in number—at the bi-annual reunion in Texas, relatives seemed to pop out of the woodwork. Who are all these Burresons and from whence have they come? To ten-year old me, it was a hopeful sign. This little family has a history, an ongoing life, and a future. So it is with John’s comforting vision.
We see two family photos: one from the past and present (7:2–8), and one from the future (7:9–17). The past and present photograph shows the church militant on earth in the midst of the tribulations inflicted after the opening of the first six seals of the lamb’s scroll. This ecclesial photo album is filled with the suffering of the saints throughout time. The listing of the twelve tribes of Israel, beginning with the tribe of the coming lion of Judah, manifests that this is God’s family, the full Israel of God. The Abrahamic promises have been fulfilled. All those that belong to God from the Old Testament through the New Testament have been and will be sealed. No one will be left out of the photo album. The all-ruling one is in control of his creation and of the tribulations and judgment coming upon the earth. These tribulations will not prevent God from sealing—marking as his own possession through the word and through Baptism—his children. They are his personal property and God will care for and protect his own. In the midst of trial, suffering, and gruesome martyrdom, the Israel of God can take comfort that those sealed by God with the sign of the victorious crucified and risen One will not be abandoned. They have a future.
A future. That’s what is depicted in the second family photo-op. The scene shifts to the church triumphant, gathered before the throne of God and the lamb. Here those sealed in the victory sign have been delivered to the father by the lamb who is their shepherd. It is a preview of the family gathering to come. A sign that salvation belongs to God alone will be this great multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-racial crowd gathered at God’s throne. This family of God has a future because God has conquered in the fight and brought his people life and light. They have had their robes washed in the word, and the great shepherd will lead them to the fountains of the waters of life. The word they heard and that permeated their life in the waters of Baptism and the food of the Lord’s Supper while part of the 144,000 on earth is now their eternal food and drink under God’s heavenly tent. And the last photo in the album is that of the young child, having suffered with loss and pain and hunger, and the hand of God wiping away the final tear, forever, from her eyes. This photo album shows us the future of God’s family.
Thus, All Saints’ Day ought to be the official feast day of scrapbookers, the day in the Christian year where everyone revels in the family photos. The photos are the names, lives, and memories of all the saints, especially those whose photos have entered the ecclesial photo album in the past year. Assemblies would do well to take time to open the verbal photo album of the congregation by naming aloud all the saints from its midst who have died in the past year (congregations with screens might consider projecting photos of the faithful departed) and others in the living memory of the assembly. Such a naming, preceding the prayers of the church, can serve as the creedal/ offertory rite of the day. It can include texts such as this:
Let us remember with thanksgiving those who have gone before us with the sign of faith, for they were created by God to offer him praise and thanksgiving forever, and he gave them new life through his Son in Holy Baptism, and nourished them in the company of his people at his holy table, and in his mercy has summoned them to his nearer presence so that they may continue in joyful service of him forever.
The preaching of this Revelation text can lead the assembly to sit together around the family photo album, rejoicing that God has a future for his family. It leads us at the end of the rite of remembrance literally to cry, “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus,” and wipe every tear from your people’s eyes.