All Saints Day – Revelation 7:9-17
There is no small sense of irony that shows itself every Reformation Day and All Saints Day; and it makes itself particularly evident this year as we have the joy of celebrating All Saints Day on the actual day, naturally proceeding Reformation Day, which officially was yesterday.
Reformation Day is all about the Church Militant, the church on earth. Reformation Day is all about boldly confessing the Word of the Lord in the face of hostilities and persecutions and sufferings. Reformation Day is about standing firm in the Word of the Lord and not compromising on it no matter what the culture, or opinion polls, or governments or even your neighbor may say. Reformation Day is all about saying with Martin Luther: Here I stand, I can do no other.
All Saints Day would therefore seem to be all about the Church Triumphant, the church in heaven. All Saints Day is joyfully looking forward to the day when we are not standing amidst the tumbling steeples and burning churches of this world and blood soaked martyrs, but are rather standing around the throne of the Lamb who lives and reigns without end in the heavenly Jerusalem. And the blood that pours forth is not the blood of martyrs, but rather the blood of the Lamb who was slain, that makes us pure and holy.
Yes, in the span of 48 hours, we see pictures of the world we live in, the faith that we cling to no matter the cost; and we see pictures of what will be the ultimate reward for confessing that faith. That is certainly not the image that motivated Martin Luther when he nailed those 95 theses to the church door in Whittenburg, but that certainly is the image that we are left with today.
Our text from Revelation even identifies the people dressed in white robes, now entering the throne room, as those who have come out of the Great Tribulation.
And when you look around, you do not need any convincing arguments or overwhelming evidence that we are indeed in the midst of a great and terrible tribulation, as opposed to being dressed in white robes entering the throne room in everlasting glory.
The Church and her people suffer indeed. The Word of the Lord is hated near and far by many and various peoples. Cultural norms that once were decidedly Christian, have become today decidedly un-Christian.
To live in the Church Militant is no laughing matter. We are at war, wearing the full armor of God, dodging the flaming darts of the evil one as we hunker down for a long winter, both literally and figuratively, when the Word of the Lord will only be attacked more and more vigorously by those who oppose it, as we the Church on earth cry out, as did the saints of old, Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly among us!
Oh how we long to be in the Church Triumphant! How we long to be in the presence of the Lord with angels and archangels. How we long for Christ to come and usher in His kingdom in our midst. How we long to be among those coming out of the Great Tribulation, as opposed to those sitting in the middle of the Great Tribulation.
For well do we know the pain of the great tribulation. Well do we know the pain and the agony of watching a faithful member of the body of Christ suffer from sickness and disease. Well do we know the harsh words spoken to believes on college campuses and in work places. Well do we know the many who have walked away from the faith, because the great tribulation was to great, the lies of Satan to alluring.
How great the promise of Revelation 7 rings in our ears this day and every day. How great the words that St. John records for us in reporting that there is an end to this great tribulation, and that those who believe in Christ Jesus will receive the ultimate reward.
Perhaps that is why this Sunday is a favorite of so many. Perhaps that is why the hymns of today are among the most treasured in our hymnal along with the hymns of Easter.
Because today is a picture not of the constant battle over the Word and the faith and the teachings of the Church; rather today is a picture of what comes at the end of this long dark night: today is a picture of the victory podium, where we see a picture of Christ reigning on His throne in the splendors of Paradise; where there is no more crying, no more dying, no more suffering, no more darkness.
Yes, much like the call of Isaiah and the apostle John on the island of Patmos, this is our picture into what awaits those who are faithful; this is our picture of what awaits each of us when we get to be with the Lord. Today is dark and dreary, but there comes a yet more glorious day, when we are transferred from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant.
And that is all certainly true.
But it is not the whole truth.
Yes, we do live in the Church Militant, and yes we do await the day when we will join the Church Triumphant; but that does not mean that every day in the Church on earth is cause for mourning. There is in fact a bright ray of hope that shines forth in the Church on earth.
It is the now and not yet of this great day of the Church Year.
You are already in the Church Triumphant, you are just not there yet.
By virtue of your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, you have a place reserved for you in the heavenly realms. By virtue of your making the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, you can rest assured that you will one day stand around the throne. By virtue of confessing your sins and receiving the absolution, you can be certain that you have been washed and made clean in the blood of the Lamb.
You are living in the Church Militant, but you are also in the Church Triumphant. You live in the sure and certain confidence that you will be among those dressed in white robes who come out of the Great Tribulation.
That is the bright light that shines forth even in the darkest corners of this world: that though steeples may tumble, though pastors may be arrested, though Christians may suffer, though the Word may be ridiculed and scorned, there is a sure and certain ending to all of it.
For those who believe, teach and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, there are these words from Revelation: 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.
People of all ages, shapes and sizes coming out of the great tribulation. People of every race and language coming out of the great tribulation. People who had never met; people who had known each other their whole lives; coming out of the great tribulation. You yourself, coming out of the great tribulation.
It is a great and glorious picture. And it is a picture that you are a part of. The joy of today, is the certainty of tomorrow. Not the tomorrow of another day in the Church Militant, but the certainty of a tomorrow in the Church Triumphant, purchased, won and secured for you by the blood of Jesus Christ.
A period of 48 hours sums this all up. But it does not just occur over a period of 48 hours. We confess the faith of the Reformation in the Church Militant daily, knowing with certainty that we have a place secured in the Church Triumphant, a place and a security that we celebrate on this All Saints Day, but have with us every day.