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What's the Focus?

November 03, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation on this All Saints’ weekend is from our first reading where John records part of his vision, "Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, '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.'" Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

In his vision, John is seeing a crowd beyond imagining, a veritable sea of people, beyond what the eye could see, all dressed in white. There are people from every continent and every island, representatives of every society and clan. No doubt, he’s able to see Kenyans standing side-by-side with Koreans, Eskimos standing alongside Arabians. There are Irish next to British, Chinese and Japanese together, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans and Persians. All these people, from every place and time, clad in white, standing and staring together in awe. It’s an incredible sight to behold … but it is not the focus.

John sees also that they have palm branches in their hands, reminiscent of the day his Rabbi entered triumphantly into the city of Jerusalem. However, that’s where the similarities stop – the crowd back at that time would, in a matter of days, turn against his Lord, and cry out for His crucifixion with malice and vitriol and hate. The odds of that happening here with this crowd are zero. No, far from calling for a crucifixion, what he hears is a triumphant, melodious roar sweeter than music as they cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They wave their palms in victory as their triumphant cry sweeps along … but that’s not the focus.

These people clad in baptismal white are not the only creatures that John sees. He also sees all the hosts of heaven, all the angelic beings, surrounding the vast crowd. They’re bowing, falling down on their faces before the throne in worship and crying out, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” They look impressive – incredibly powerful creatures prostrating themselves, calling out to one another a phrase that echoes through the ages … but they are not the focus.

“Who are these?” It’s a good question that the elder asks John, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” For his part, John humbly and simply replies with the truth, “My lord, you know.”  Indeed, the elder does know who composes this immense crowd, and from where they come, and so he explains to the awestruck apostle, “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. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This ocean of humanity that John is watching are all Christians from all time and space, from Adam and Eve, who first believed the promise that the Seed of woman would crush the head of the serpent, to the last child baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. They are all here, palm branches in hand, crying out in a loud voice. It’s almost too moving for words, to see all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, from every tribe and every time, all singing as one … but that is not the focus.

The focus, I’m sure you have figured out, is upon the One whom all the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven are worshiping and praising and adoring. Their focus is upon the King of kings and Lord of lords, God Almighty, the Lamb in the midst of the throne, who was slain for the sin of the world and is alive again. The focus is not on the ones clad in white, but on Jesus, the One who shed His blood for their robes to be washed white and cleansed from sin. Awesome as this crowd of singing Christians surely is to John (and to us), the One to whom they sing is infinitely more.

That’s important to remember as we are celebrating this All Saints’. It is a bit of a melancholy day, a somber observance and celebration as it is brought home to us that some of those we loved and held most dearly … are gone from us. We no longer benefit from their physical presence in our lives – whether they were called to rest years ago or just in the past few days … and it hurts. Terribly. Death is a vile intruder into God’s good creation, certainly not the “old friend” that some so foolishly paint it as. Death tears asunder God’s creatures, and leaves devastation and pain too deep for words in its wake. It claims both prince and pauper, the beneficent and the cruel, all laid low equally by this despicable equalizer. On a day like this, as we are remembering those who have fallen asleep in Christ in the past year, it’s easy to focus heavily upon damnable death.

But this is not our focus – today, or any other. Instead, our focus is on the One in whom our now-resting loved ones hoped, the One in whom they trusted, the One they are now seeing face-to-face. Our focus this day is on the One who stood up to death and exposed it as the pathetic charlatan it always has been. Like the massive crowd and the angelic host in John’s vision, our focus this day is upon Jesus, the One who died on the cross of Calvary, making atonement for our sins, and three days later rose from the dead. Our focus is upon the One who, at the end of time, will destroy death, the final contemptible enemy. Our focus is upon the One who will, on the Last Day, raise all the dead, and usher those who have washed their robes white in His own precious blood to eternal life with Him, where “[t]hey shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

All Saints’ Day is a bit like a Christian funeral. Yes, there is sorrow and sadness as we remember those who are at rest in the presence of their Redeemer, but there is also an inexplicable hope, a peace that does surpass understanding. We know that we will see again those who have died in Christ … in the flesh … in the life of the world to come. We will see Abraham and David and Isaiah. We will see Peter and Paul and John. We will see Augustine and Luther and Walther. We will see Justin, Edward, Randy, Larry, Dave, Ron, Millie, Opal, Harry, Sally, Leon, Virginia, and Tammy. We will be reunited with them … but they will not be our focus. No, on that Day, as death fades to mere memory, standing in our own blood-washed baptismal robes, palm branches in hand, we will sing with them to the King of kings and Lord of lords, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  On that blessed Day, we will all be focused upon Jesus, the Lamb of God, sho took away the sin of the world.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.