All Saints Day. It’s actually November 1, but we move it to Sunday, in order to celebrate the saints who have gone before us. In our parish, this past year we saw Don Sherard transferred to from the church militant to the church triumphant. How then do we consider him – and parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, pastors, fathers of the church, apostles, prophets and so on? We don’t pray to them. We follow Jesus command and pray directly to “Our Father who art in heaven.” We don’t need go betweens or intermediaries besides Jesus. Jesus tells us this point blank. “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. …ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
So, because of Jesus work on our behalf, we don’t need some sort of super-disciple to pray to in order to get our prayer heard. That’s why we don’t have some elaborate process to declare a person a saint. Anyone who is baptized into Christ Jesus and his death is holy and righteous before God, and is called a saint. And anyone who dies under the sign of the cross in this world, is called “Sainted.” So today, we remember those who have been examples to us of faith in Christ Jesus, and love toward their fellow man. Those who have gone before us under the sign of faith. Those who, by their own lives and deaths, stand as an encouragement to us to be faithful in times of trouble. We give thanks to God for them. They are a great gift, whether it be a parent or friend who taught us about Jesus, or a pastor who instructed and confirmed. Or even if it was someone we’ve never heard of, who had an impact on someone who knew someone, who then instructed someone dear to us. A great cloud of witnesses, scripture says. That’s what we have. And that’s what we celebrate on All Saints day. Thanks be to God.
And on this day, when we hear of the great cloud of witnesses, there’s a verse in Revelation that bears some explanation.
Regarding the great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, Saint John is asked, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “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.”
What is that great tribulation? It’s important that we understand what God is revealing to John, and what he isn’t. Because these few verses, meant to comfort the saints in the church militant – that is the church on earth, have been misunderstood. And because of that, have been seen by many as a source of conflict, a source of worry. And they aren’t supposed to be that.
So what is the great tribulation? Well, there’s a lot of theories out there. Folks pour over the book of revelation for hints about this or that little thing. There’s a thousand year reign of Christ as well. And many think that those two are specific time periods in the world that are coming. There are those who think the 1000 years comes after the tribulation, and those who think it comes before. Pre-millenialism, and post-millenialism. It’s a big industry. There were even movies about it a few years ago – the Left Behind series.
And it’s all absurd. It’s really very simple. The book of Revelation is written not as a detailed manual of events to come. It is a vision given by God to John, to comfort and strengthen him. It isn’t supposed to worry and frighten the church. It is a view of how things look from heaven. The prophecies of the Old Testament were similarly misunderstood – it wasn’t until after Jesus rose from the dead and explained the prophets that the disciples understood what they meant when they said things like, “he was despised and rejected a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. By his stripes we are healed…” Jesus had to die and be raised from the dead. Even though Jesus said it to them point blank, they didn’t get it.
But when we look at it in light of Jesus Crucifixion, we see what the prophets meant. So also, the book of Revelation doesn’t need to frighten us. We don’t need to sit around watching the clouds wondering if this or that thing is coming. Jesus has it all in his hand.
And Saint John records Jesus explaining things to the disciples in his Gospel.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you… I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Jesus tells us that life in the world for those in the church will be a time of trouble. It won’t be easy. This is the great tribulation right now. The time when the church groans with the pains of childbirth. We are under constant attack from Satan and his forces. He tried to tempt God himself to sin. Certainly he’s not going to say, “Oh you were baptized? You go to the LCMS church? Well, better pack up and go home. I’m defeated.” Of course not. Our time in this world is troublesome. Satan is always attacking us. Not only tempting us to sin, but causing grief of every sort, accusing us of sin so we would despair of God’s mercy. Lie after lie he wispers into your ear. The world hears the lies of Satan and rejoices. The world is corrupted. That’s why we live in the world, but not of the world. We are indeed here. We are faithful citizens as far as possible. But we put no trust in the world to support or encourage the truth of God’s Word. We don’t expect that the world will appreciate what Jesus has said. Because he tells us it will not. Whether the rich, the powerful, the politically connected, we don’t look to them for salvation. We look to Jesus. And the world can’t stand that we don’t bow down to it’s pomp and power and beauty. We look to our heavenly Father, who sent his son Jesus Christ, for all things. And so we are hated by the world.
We are in a time of trouble. As we heard last week, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. This is the time of trouble and tribulation – the time when we have the promise of Christ’s victory, but he has not yet returned with the sound of the trumpet. He has not returned in glory to judge the living and the dead.
And so we wait. But there is another part of Revelation that confuses those who try to read it according to human reason, not according to the Spirit of God. And that is the 1000 year reign of Christ. When is that? Well, that is now as well. Jesus says so at the end of Matthew. All authority in heaven and earth is given to me… I am with you always even to the end of the age.” This is the time of Christ’s reign on earth.
But how can it be the time of his reign, and the time when he is rejected? A time of tribulation from what we see. A time of glory, with angels and archangels around the throne from the perspective of heaven. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. He has conquered death and hell and the devil. For a little while we struggle in this world. But he has already won the victory. This week one party with celebrate, the other concede. Or maybe in a few weeks or months. There will be an inauguration, power will transfer from one to another. Will this side win or the other?
It really doesn’t matter. We don’t put our trust in princes and powers of this world. We put our trust in the one who has conquered in the fight that really matters. The one who has beaten the real enemy – death and hell and the devil. He is the one we praise and laud and magnify. He is the one to whom all glory is given. We do it here feebly, struggling, oftentimes weak and feeling overcome. That is why he continues to feed us, that’s why we have the promise, “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.” That’s why he has promised that when we are persecuted for the sake of Jesus, we are blessed. We walk in the path of the prophets and apostles, and yes, of Jesus himself. Who was rejected because he brought God’s word into a sin-filled world.
We already know how the story ends. We’ve seen loved ones go through this world and conquer death by the blood of the lamb, even as their bodies gave out in this world. But their lives their faith stand as testimony to the salvation won for them by Jesus. And now, they sign with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And for a few brief moments in a week, we get to come and join them before the lamb’s throne. And receive the lamb’s victory feast. And be fed and nourished with food that does not spoil. For a few minutes, we get to sing with them again, the song of praise, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.” and for a few minutes the veil is torn, and heaven and earth are not separate, but you are given a foretaste of the feast to come. For a few minutes, before you go back into the world of great tribulation, you get to see the glory of Christ reigning. And then, living a life of faith toward God and fervent love toward your fellow men you go back out. But the day will come when you will join the saints who have gone before. You will join them, and this time you will not walk back out. You will enter the presence of God forever and ever. You will not struggle with the sins of the flesh any longer. You will be with the saints around the throne of God and the lamb, singing praises. Thanks be to God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Grant this Lord unto us all.