a sermon for the fourth sunday of easter on revelation 7:9-17, delivered at the 5:30pm service
In this season of Eastertide, we are constantly reminded of the actions of Christ, the mission that has been left for us to fulfill, and we are also reminded of the promise that has been left for us. When we hear from the Revelation of John, we are reminded of the promise that has been left for us, and the work that comes in that promise. We are reminded that the work of Christ in this world is not done, that we are responsible for insuring that it continues, and that we will have our reward in Heaven if we do the the work of the movement that Christ has laid the groundwork for. It is particularly important during this season of Easter that we remember that Christ’s salvation is for all, that our victory through Christ does not mean we get a pass on the hard stuff in this life, that it is only through Christ that we can experience the salvation that has been promised to us.
When we talk of Christ’s salvation, it is tempting to narrow the scope of that salvation. It is tempting to label some as in and others as out, because we want to know that we ourselves have that salvation, and we don’t want to be associated with those who we judge as not meeting the required standard, as living a life that is other than that of a follower of Christ. We judge, because we cannot imagine sharing our salvation with them. But, we are reminded today that salvation is for all people. We hear today that 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 “ This vision of the end times counts among the gathered faithful, the great multitude, peoples from all tribes, languages, experiences, backgrounds, colors, and any other label we have used to mark someone as other. At the end, we are all one in the great multitude before the throne of the Lamb. At the end, there are no others, there exists only the faithful. And, this gathering of the faithful are determined by God, they are not determined by our own definitions of who is or isn’t or couldn’t possibly be faithful. The clear message then, a message that we have continually failed to grasp for nearly two millennia here in the Church and in our society, is that we should make this reality of the great multitude here and now. We shouldn’t be waiting for the end of times before we’re willing to be joined together with people from all ends of creation. We shouldn’t be waiting for the end of times to recognize the faithfulness of all who proclaim the Good News of Christ. We shouldn’t be waiting for the end of times to recognize the faithfulness of all who proclaim the truth of God, Christian or not. We shouldn’t be waiting for the end of times to treat every piece of creation with love and respect, not the least of which should include treating fellow human beings as beloved.
This is hard. It is hard work to treat all of our neighbors as beloved children of God, particularly when they’re just the worst. We all have people in our lives, either currently or in the past, that rub us the wrong way. We have people in our lives that have actively harmed us. We have people in our lives that attack us, because of who we are, or what we believe, or how we believe it. And, the reality is, this is part of the human experience. Part of being in and of creation is that we will experience conflict in this life. Oftentimes, those who we are in conflict with, see us much the same way we see them. I know I personally have butted heads with people in the past. I wonder why they can’t see things my way. I wonder why they don’t feel the same way I feel, understanding how important this thing is over the thing they want. I wonder, and in wondering I should realize that of course they can’t and don’t because they are not me. In wondering, I should realize that they wonder the same things about me. But, it’s hard to remember this. It is hard to remember, particularly when emotions get involved, that, at the end, we are all ultimately one, and our bickering and frustrations will be moot.
We are all one in Christ, and through Christ’s victory we are promised eternal salvation for our own faith and work in the mission of Christ. However, this victory also does not mean that we will live a life of ease. Christ’s victory through death is predicated on suffering, rejection, and a violent death. This is the reality of our salvation. This is the price that was paid for us. And, this is the price that we must be willing to pay as well. The great multitude before the throne today is dressed in robes who have made them white through washing them in the blood of the lamb. The imagery here is striking. Robes, soaked, scrubbed, rinsed in the deep, thick scarlet of the blood of the lamb, come out dazzling white. Our purity, our salvation, is built upon the death of the lamb, the sacrificial blood that has been spilt for us. It is our responsibility to live into that reality. To live into the sense that our faith in God, our salvation, includes suffering, rejection, death. That our own experience of life will include suffering, rejection, death. That salvation is experienced through our death and new life in the heavenly kingdom.
We are tasked with the work of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to creation, here and now. We are tasked with the work of breaking down the barriers that currently keeps the great multitude separated. We are tasked with moving creation, altering the accepted human experience, from putting up with the bad parts because it’s just part of being human, to coexisting in a world where all are equal, all are loved and respected, for that is the reality that God has shown us as it will be in the Kingdom. This is hard work, but we must be reassured in doing that work, for God promises that when we take on this work, when we subject ourselves to suffering through ridicule at best and personal attacks at worst, when we subject ourselves to rejection from those whom we call our closest family and friends for making an unpopular stand when that stand brings us closer to acceptance of all, if we ever have to subject ourselves to death to protect others, God promises that we “will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
This is the reality of our faith. This is the reality of the mission and movement of Christ that we are called to live into. That salvation exists for all. That our victory through Christ is predicated not just on Christ’s suffering, rejection, death, but that our own experience of faith can and often will include these experiences as well. We cannot sit idly by, comfortable, but uninspired to act. We cannot sit on our hands and hope that our faith alone is good enough to get us into that great multitude. We have to do the real work of Christ that we claim our faith from. We have to do the real work of being a Christian here and now. We have to be the people that creates the reality of the great multitude here and now, instead of waiting, continuing (either through action or inaction) to promote the separation of all peoples. When we come together, when we accept the reality of our faith, then we can do the hard work of the Christ movement that has been left for us. When we come together and accept the reality of our faith, we become one in Christ, we receive the support of God in our work, we are assured of our eternal salvation. Amen.