Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Witness of the Saints

Revelation 7:9-17 Common English Bible (CEB)

After this I looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language. They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out with a loud voice:

“Victory belongs to our God
        who sits on the throne,
            and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels stood in a circle around the throne, and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell facedown before the throne and worshipped God, 12 saying,
“Amen! Blessing and glory
        and wisdom and thanksgiving
        and honor and power and might
            be to our God forever and always. Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.”
Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. 15 This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them.16 They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, 17 because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water,[a] and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

As it is All Saints Day it is fitting that we pause to remember all the saints of God, from whose labors, have rested. We stop today to remember service given to God -- especially in times of trial. The vision offered in this reading from Revelation 7 invites us to visualize the breadth and depth of God's people. From every nation they come. Speaking every language under the son. This is the realm of God -- deep and wide.  Many have suffered and many continue to suffer, and so it is fitting to honor memory and hear a call to live lives of service.  I would have us especially remember brothers and sisters living in the Middle East, especially Iraq and Syria, who are facing incredible persecution. 

As we think of their ordeal, and the ordeal of all who suffer, I want to share these words form Gennifer Benjamin Brooks, as found in the lectionary reflections for All Saints' Day in Preaching God's Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year A(WJK Press, 2013).  

As the gathered community, the church triumphant, they offer a picture of divine love worthy of praise. The Lamb that was slain is their redeemer. The multitude consists of those who have been downtrodden, afflicted, hungry, thirsty, oppressed, and despised for being strangers in a strange land. Yet under the leadership of the Lamb, in a manner reminiscent of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, they offer extravagant praise to God for their experience of divine presence and saving grace. John's vision takes flesh in the pictures of children who have been abducted, abused, and killed. The martyrs in our day include the innocent ones who are stolen and sacrificed to the gods of power, privilege, and indulgence as sex slaves and child laborers. These have hope of ultimate redemption through the Lamb even as other faithful persons labor for their release.  
Their presence with the Lamb is testimony of their redeemed status and of the universality of the beloved community where there is no discrimination based on language, race, color, tribe, national origin, or any other social marker. The great ordeal through which they have come, unspecified in John's vision, is nevertheless representative of systemic oppression and injustice. Whether or not we consider these verses as prescient of John's impending martyrdom, the recall for us the continual worsening of racism, militarism, neocolonialism, warmongering, and ever-escalating violence to individuals, communities, and nations globally.  (p. 467). 

AS we consider this witness, may we offer our own as we stand in praise to the God who redeems.  

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