Grace Presbyterian Church
November 5, 2017, All Saints’ A
Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3
It is one of the quirks of the liturgical calendar that Reformation Day (which we marked last week) and All Saints’ Day fall on consecutive days, October 31 and November 1, respectively. They would seem in many ways to be quite different occasions, maybe even incompatible in the eyes of some. The Reformation of course marked, in the long term, a reaction against and ultimately departure from the larger church and many of its practices, and most (though not all) Protestant groups disposed of the practice of venerating saints in their attempts to distance themselves from the practices of that larger church. In other words, most Protestant church traditions don’t have “saints” in the formal sense.
But of course we do have “saints.” We may not use the title, but we most certainly do have “saints.” And you know of whom I am speaking.
We as a congregation have borne the departure of these souls from our fellowship since this time last year. Each played a different role in the life of this congregation, and yet each lingers on among us in memory, in the nurture and teaching and support we received from them, and in some cases in the tangible reminders of their presence among us, such as the pieces of art Ray Ferguson contributed to the worship and fellowship life of this church.
The word “saint,” still, is intimidating to us. We might, at our imagination’s most vivid moments, conjure up a scene something like that found in today’s reading from Revelation, the “great multitude … from every nation” found exulting in the salvation of God, rejoicing and praising and worshiping constantly. It’s a glorious scene to be sure, but not necessarily one in which we see ourselves; as the one elder describes them as having come through the “great ordeal” (likely a reference to early examples of persecution finding its way to the early church), we realize that, generally, that’s not us – we don’t know persecution for our faith. We just don’t.
But that’s where the account from 1 John comes in. Sometimes thought to be the by the same author, the epistle reading is rather different in its style (but then, very little in scripture is like Revelation in style). Written to a church that has apparently suffered not persecution but division, this letter focuses on getting through such trials as we do face, and doing so in a way that gives off visible evidence of being those who are “called children of God.”
This very short passage still makes that point we need to hear; we really are children of God, even if the world doesn’t see it. But then, if the world doesn’t know what God looks like, how would it know what a child of God looks like? What we will be, we don’t know; but what we know is that on that day, whenever it may be, that God is at long last visible and revealed to us … “we will be like [God], for we will see [God] as [God] is.” This is the hope we have in us.
Of course we don’t get there by our own superhuman will. All that goes into becoming whatever will become is a gift of God, as Paul would jump in to remind us at about this point.
So, we go forward. We “press on,” to borrow a phrase from the choir’s anthem today. One thing both of today’s readings remind us is that, to borrow another popular phrase, “the best is yet to come.”
The risk of an occasion like All Saints’ Day is that we get caught up in glorifying the past. That’s particularly a risk for a church like hours, where that list of those who died in the past year seems to become more painful and more devastating every year, and we are tempted to get caught in nostalgia for their days with us in this church.
But the “glory days” of the body of Christ are not back there. They’re not behind us; they are still ahead. Anything in this earthly life is not going to be “glory days,” folks. We may not know what the future of this congregation or any other congregation is going to be, but we know what the future – what the hope – of the body of Christ is.
And so, we press on. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal): #326, For All the Saints; #324, For All the Faithful Women; #369, Blessing and Honor; #295, Go to the World!