Posts Tagged ‘All Saints Sunday’

Where Were You Lord 11-4-8


In this sermon for All Saints Sunday, based on John 11:32-44, I explore the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  We are given a unique glimpse into the grief that even God has experienced in the face of death.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

There are times when I like to joke around that I’m turning into a hipster…but then I really got to thinking about it, and I realized that there are 5 signs that you are, in fact, a hipster.  Number one, you are a fan of facial hair…check.  Number two…you love craft beer…check.  Number three, you tend to wear baseball caps at an odd, ironic angle…which I do not do. Number four, you have a preference for wearing skinny jeans…nope.

And finally…the deciding factor…you have tattoos…which I don’t…so I guess I can say, for the moment anyway…that I’m only 40% hipster…but, someday that might shift…because I’ve always thought about getting some ink…so much so that I even know what I’ll get, if I ever decide to take the plunge.

There’s an image that I love…2 hands coming together…grasping each other at the wrist.  Now the first time that I saw this image was at the very end of the first Lord of the Rings movie back in 2001…(demonstrate the image) one of the characters, who can’t swim, has sank in a river, when another character reaches down from a boat…grabs his wrist, and after a brief second, they are both holding on as he gets pulled up out of the water.

This image is meaningful for me for a couple of reasons…one probably being because I’ve been pulled out of the water…many of you sitting out there have heard me tell the story of a time when I foolishly tried swimming out to a buoy in rough water and my brother in law had to pull me back to shore.

The second reason stems from that…when another impulsive decision on the part of Peter resulted in Jesus reaching out and taking him by the hand, lifting him up out of the water. And interestingly enough…this action of Jesus…grabbing another person by the hand…its something of a regular occurrence for him…especially in terms of the miracles that Jesus is famous for. Several different times…in different circumstances, we hear of Jesus grasping another person by the hand.  He heals several different people, including Peter’s mother in law, through his words combined with the action of grabbing the individual by the hand.  And in one instance…he even raises a young girl from the dead in this same way. And that’s worth paying attention to.

There are only three instances in the gospels of Jesus raising people from the dead…the young girl…a widow’s son when he walks up on the funeral procession…and today’s story of Lazarus. I can’t help but think that’s eye opening to consider, knowing how much stock we place on Jesus and his action of overcoming the power of death in the world…its strange to think that only 3 people are actually raised from the dead.

But today’s story is one of those times…but to be sure…the story of Jesus and Lazarus is an odd one.  For starters…I wish we knew a little more about the relationship between Jesus and this family…for he was close to Lazarus but also his sisters Martha and Mary…we hear about these three siblings in quite a few different instances….but we never really hear about the basis for their ongoing relationship, beyond the love that is expressed between them.

But regardless of their history…it would certainly seem that there is a sense of extreme familiarity, perhaps even a sense of duty that lies between them…evidence in the details within this greater story…a portion of which takes place before our action begins today.  Because for starters…Lazarus gets sick…we don’t know his ailment…but its serious enough for Martha to send off for Jesus…who’s hanging out somewhere in the region in the midst of his ministry.

Now keep in mind…Martha can’t just pick up a cell phone and shoot him a text…she had to send someone to look for him…and who knows how long that took…but when word finally reaches him…Jesus acknowledges that Lazarus is sick…and promptly stays put for a couple more days before finally meandering his way to Bethany…in fact he takes so much time in getting there…that by the time he approaches the village…Lazarus has been dead and sealed in the tomb for the better part of a week.

I can only imagine how frustrating this must have been for the sisters…and maybe you can too…ever been in a situation like that…one where duty or personal obligation dictates that you should put some hustle into the situation…or vice-versa that you expect the person you’ve reached out to to do the same?

That seems to be the case here as well…because before Jesus even makes it to the village, Martha hears he’s coming and she marches out to give him a piece of her mind…and in the midst of a back and forth between Jesus and Martha…one that I imagine was a touch on the heated side…she says “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (pause)

Now this isn’t the only time we hear it…because pretty soon Mary…who had stayed in the house when Martha stomped off the gates of town…Mary follows suit and heads out to find Jesus as well…and when she does…she says the exact same thing to him. “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  I can only think that both sisters are placing blame…casting some shade…seeking out a target for the grief and sadness and anger that they are feeling in the death of their brother…in the death of someone that they love. They might as well be saying “Its your fault he’s dead” or even asking the question “Where were you on this one Lord?”

I can’t help but think that we’ve all been there at one time or another…because death is a reality isn’t it? One that we’ve all encountered…and death’s a funny thing, though perhaps that’s not quite the right word for it…because sometimes death feels almost okay…but other times everything about it is wrong.

Circumstances can alter how we look at death…the life of the individual…how old they are…if they’ve battled a long illness…or if its an accident that comes out of nowhere…all of these things factor into our response…but if there is one thing in common, regardless of the circumstances…it’s the pain and the sorrow that we feel when death enters the picture.

Now here’s the thing. We’re not the only ones who feel it.  Because not just once…but twice in today’s story…we hear how deeply Jesus is moved…he is shocked…angry…deeply agitated within himself. Our English translation doesn’t do justice to what Jesus was feeling…and not only that but we hear that Jesus weeps openly when he come face to face with the death of a loved one.

And as we recognize the response of Jesus we begin to see that we are not alone in grieving…but that we have a God who mourns death just as we do…in fact I believe that the first being to mourn every single death is God…and that God is weeping before the reality even begins to take hold in our hearts and minds when something like this happens.

God is no stranger to the pain of loss…the emotion that comes with it…because God has experienced it first hand when the Word became flesh and dwelled among us…and this is why God has made us a promise over and over again in the scriptures…one that we heard today out of Revelation…now I don’t know if you are familiar with Revelation, but it’s the last book of the Bible and the reading today was one of the last parts of it. And this promise says that once this crazy broken-down messed up reality is over…that God will make everything new…somehow, someway…and not only that, but God will dwell among us…and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes…death will be no more…mourning and crying and pain will be no more. (pause)
I’ve often said…I have no idea what things are going to look like in the life to come…but somehow it seems that the pain that we feel now…the pain that gives us sorrow and tears…and the pain that makes us angry enough to scream out at God “Where were you on this one?” That will be no more.

And that gives me hope…even in the midst of times when everything else gets cloudy in the face of the pain…and this is a place that, perhaps, you find yourself in today…I’m guessing many from our community are still in this state…still feeling that anger and loss…still asking those questions after the tragic death of a high schooler just a couple weeks ago…a sense that we’ve felt before in our community in the face of tragedies that just don’t make any sense.

But we remember in these times, that not only do we have a God that mourns along side us…but we have a God who has done something about it…even in those times when we might be a little too sad or angry to see that hope clearly…that hope remains…and in these times, we look to each other for love and support.

We look to each other because together we are the hands and feet of God…together we are the body of Christ here on earth and we are called to lift each other up…because sometimes the immediate answer that God gives us when we ask “Where are you on this one” is to point us to look around and see those that are here to share our burdens with us.

There’s a painting that hangs up in the high school. Admittedly I don’t know what the story is behind it, but sometimes I wonder if its actually based on the same image from the movie that I talked about before…two hands grasping one other by the wrist…one whole and strong…the other bruised and scarred…and that my friends…is life…we do this for one another…knowing in the next instant that our strength might fail and we’ll need someone to take us by the hand…to mirror that love and that strength and that power to comes from God in the first place…that’s how we get through these times…holding onto the promise that one day…one glorious day…we like Lazarus, will hear a voice calling our name…a voice that is bigger…louder…greater even than death and the separation that it causes with those still living…a voice of one who knows the pain of mourning…and who will always be there to take us by the hand…in one way or another…and lift us up to new life. Amen.

2 Sides to the Same Coin 11-5-17

In this sermon for All Saints Sunday, taken from 1 John 3:1-3, I explore the promise made by God, through Christ, that have been claimed as God’s children now. One day we will see what this means for us in the eternal sense, but we cling to the hope now.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I’ve often found that scientific concepts can be explained in one of 2 ways…the really technical way that is difficult to understand…also known as the hard way…and then…the easy way.  An example…Newton’s third law of motion states “all forces between two objects exist in equal magnitude and opposite direction.” The hard way…now the easy way…every action has an opposite reaction…I think I like the easy way better.

As I think about this…it points me in the direction of thinking about how there are a lot of opposites in the world…a lot of things that seem to have a counter-part on the other side of the line…almost like saying that there are two sides to every coin.

I think this is the case, not only in the world…but in life too…that there are events or situations that happen in life that that seem to have an opposite counterpart…some of which are celebrated here in the church…and perhaps the most fitting pair of opposites that comes to mind is how we celebrate both new life, particularly in terms of the baptism of an infant here in the font, and we also recognize the end of life through funerals.

Now this idea certainly ties in with the theme of the day…All Saints Sunday…when we take the time to stop and remember the individuals who have died over the course of the past year…as we consider those who have come before us in life, and gone on ahead of us into whatever it is that lies on the other side of death.

Now death is an odd aspect of our existence…one that we acknowledge…but that admittedly we don’t give a whole lot of focus within the church year.  Out of the countless worships services that we share every year, week in and week out, not to mention the special services on certain holidays…there are only 3 that really zero in on death.  Ash Wednesday when we are reminded of our own mortality. Good Friday when we remember the death of our Lord Jesus.  And today…All Saints Sunday. (pause)

Now to consider death is also to consider funerals…the worship services we have to commend the individual into the care of the Lord…and many of you sitting out there today have likely had the opportunity to hear me preach at a funeral before…but if you haven’t, you should know that there’s a question that I pose each time. Why are we here?

I pause for a moment and then I answer the question with a two-fold answer…an answer that probably seems to come off as 2 sides of the same coin. We gather at funerals to mourn the death while at the same time to celebrate the life of the individual.

Now as we think about that, perhaps we begin to see that those two aspects of a funeral each have their place within the context of those different “death oriented days” in the church year.  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we tend to be pretty focused on the mourning part…while the general idea of All Saints Sunday is to celebrate the life and the witness of those who have come before us, and now have gone on ahead of us past that great unknown barrier known as death. (pause)

This is now the 5th time I’ve celebrated All Saints Sunday with you here at Underwood…and as I think back over the years, I remember the names that have been read as the candles were lit. 19 people over the course of the past 5 years…and as I think about those names, I remember the relationships that center around each of them…and I think about the way things felt around their death…and I imagine that it goes without saying that each one of them is a little different.image1

Take for instance…Gladys Carrigan…she’s the first candle over there today…I think about her death, one year ago today actually…and the circumstances that surrounded that wonderful 104 year old woman. Several people asked me how she died, and I could only respond…well she was 104.  Her funeral was a wonderful celebration of her life, I think any who were there would agree. But hers is not the only candle there today. (pause) There are 5 others. I look at them, I think about the names that will be read when we reach that part of our service in a few more minutes. (pause)

And then I look at the final candle, the one that we will light as we share the name Marcia Hastings…Marcia died just last week…with the news slowly trickling out…news which is painful to consider. News that some of you know, but that I fear will catch many of you by surprise to hear that Marcia took her own life…and it is in this shocking and painful news that we remember the truth about death.  That no matter how it happens…no matter what the circumstances…death just feels…somehow…wrong.  (pause)

If there is one truth that unites every instance of death…a truth that perhaps compounds this sense of wrongness…it is that death somehow creates a barrier…a separation between those of us still in this life, and those who have gone on to whatever it is that lies on the other side. (pause)

We never know how or when this painful truth will strike us…as those of us still in this life feel the sting of absence…even as we cherish the memory of those we have loved and lost…and yet this is our reality…one that goes beyond our ability to comprehend. (pause)

But as we must do…when we come face to face with death, we cling to the promise of new life made possible by God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…a promise which is given to us right here, right now…a promise that grants us hope in the midst of the lives that we live…and a promise which be made new in whatever lies beyond the barrier of death…yet to be revealed to us.

This is the hopeful promise that is given to us repeatedly in the short reading from 1 John today…an assurance of who we are now…or perhaps more importantly, Who’s we are today.  (pause) We are reminded that out of God’s great love for us…out of God’s delight, we are claimed…and we are called children of God…and that is what we are.  And if we didn’t quite catch it the first time, John repeats it for us…Beloved…we ARE God’s children NOW.  This is the promise made real for us in Jesus Christ, that through him we are made heirs of the promise…we are claimed and given this same birthright.

The only question is what that’s going to look like in the life to come…and the author recognizes this ambiguity…we are God’s children now…what we will be…has not…yet…been…revealed…but when it is revealed…we will be like God, for we will see him as he is…We won’t BE God…but we will be like him, for the broken parts of us will be stripped away and we shall see that we are all truly made bearing God’s divine image. (pause)

The promise of the life to come, whatever its going to look like gives us hope to live our lives today, on this side of death…in a way that reflects the joy and the love of God in each one of us. And this is what we must cling to in the face of pain and brokenness and death…because of the assurance that somehow, someway…through Jesus Christ and his perfect love for each us…God has overcome that which is so WRONG about death. (pause)

Today we acknowledge those who have come before us…we remember those who lived their lives in the hope of God’s promise…and we remember those who now have crossed over into whatever it is that we can’t see yet.  We acknowledge the joy of their memory…we acknowledge the pain of their absence…and above all…we cling to the hope given to us now…that through Christ, we will one day experience what they already know to be true. Amen.

Just Wait 11-6-16

In this sermon for All Saints Sunday, I explore the crazy cycle of life as Jesus describes in in Luke 6:17-31. Throughout the ups and downs, the promise remains that the kingdom is already with us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
*note, that between the writing and recording of this sermon, a congregational member died, and so rather that the number of All Saints names being 4, it was actually 5*

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

So the Cubs finally won the World Series. All the jokes and the predictions…all the ho-hum years that went nowhere, and all the heartbreaks of good teams that didn’t quite make it are over…the longest streak in American professional sports since winning the championship no longer belongs to the Cubbies.

And if social media is to be believed…there were a lot of us watching that game…a lot of us biting our finger nails…especially in the bottom of the 9th when the Indians smacked a 2 run homer to tie it up and send it into extra innings…and if you were still up watching at that point…you know we had to wait even longer because of a rain delay between the 9th and 10th. Fortunately it wasn’t overly long.

In a lot of ways that brief rain-delay reminded me of a very common saying that we have here in Iowa. (pause) Don’t like the weather? Wait 5 minutes. (pause) And isn’t it the truth? It never ceases to amaze me at how quickly the weather can change in this part of the country…and who knows, maybe it’s the same everywhere…but its really true here. Now, typically we use this expression to talk about rain…how it can come and go so rapidly…and often does.

But this time of the year, this phrase runs through my head just thinking about the way the temperature changes so much over the course of the day.  We start the day with heat…by mid-morning you open the windows…you turn on the air conditioner in the afternoon when it gets a little on the hot side…but by evening…you’ve got the heat on again. (pause) Don’t like the weather…just wait…it’ll change.

Now its that notion of the way things change, and specifically the cycle of the temperature through the day at this time of year that gets me thinking about the gospel lesson for today…because the gospel highlights a very familiar notion…that in life…there are ups and downs…back and forth…reversals…cycles…and if our experience shows us anything as we go through this crazy thing called life…its that these cycles of the good and the bad…they just keep on happening don’t they? (pause)

Now perhaps today’s story seems familiar to you. It’s from a portion of Luke’s gospel called the Sermon on the Plain…it lines up with a lengthy portion of teaching from Jesus found in Matthew’s gospel known as the Sermon on the Mount…and they have A LOT of similarities…including the way they both start off.

Both accounts start off in the same way…with something called the Beatitudes…but where Matthew shares a slightly longer listing of people who are blessed within their present circumstances…Luke shortens the list…but he also shares the flip side of things…because we’ve got the “Woe’s” in there too. (pause)
Now it’s interesting how Luke presents them…this list of 4 sets of people who have it rough in the present, but they are blessed…and in the future the opposite will be true…and then, once those things are listed, we hear Jesus switch gears…and he lists off 4 more sets of people…who seem to be enjoying good times in the present…but they better watch out, because harder times are coming. (pause)
Now maybe this makes sense…because that’s a pretty accurate notion of life. Sometimes things are good, sometimes things are hard…Some times we feel pretty blessed…and sometimes we need to watch out. (Pause) But there’s a little  more too it than that isn’t there? Admittedly, I’m not much for rearranging scripture, because I think it typically does a pretty good job on its own, but I do find myself wishing that the order of things was mixed up just a touch here….because it’s a little more eye-opening if we pair them up together.
Blessed are you who are poor…for yours is the kingdom of God…but woe to you who are rich. (Pause) Blessed are you who are hungry now…for you will be filled…but woe to you who are full. (pause) Blessed are you who weep now…for you will laugh…but woe to you who are laughing now. (pause) And finally…blessed are you when people hate you…and exclude you…and revile you and defame you on account of the Son of Man…for surely your reward is great in heaven…but woe to you when all speak well of you…

Isn’t that crazy? These sayings of Jesus all partner up…they are two sides of the same coin…and through these 4 different situational pairings, Jesus seems to be saying…if it stinks now, it’ll get better, but if you’ve got it good now its gonna go downhill…ups and downs…lots of reversals…a cycle…just like life. (pause)
Now…out of all 4 of these situations…perhaps one of them is a little bit more fitting than the others today…Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh, but woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

Today is, of course, All Saints Sunday…and already within our worship service we have taken the time to remember those who have died in the last year…we have shared their names…we have shared a moment to dwell in their memory…and we have lit a candle for each of them which is still burning right over there.

And I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of just how recently three of those 4 names were added to the list for today.  Just within this congregation, we have experienced 3 deaths…3 funerals in the past 2 months…and the most recent one just 2 weeks ago. (pause)

For many of us here…we don’t have to think very hard to remember being in the state of weeping and mourning…and maybe in some ways…maybe even in every way for some of you sitting out there today…we are still fully in this state…and the very last thing we might think is possible is that we would ever smile again…or laugh again…or in some way feel any sort of joy. (pause)

Because grief is a hard thing…and there is no right way to go through it. Two weeks ago I stood before in the midst of my own grief…my own shock in the death of a 15 year old boy, and in that moment I shared the sense of anger and sadness and the honest feeling that any joy was pretty hard to see.

In the time since then, I’ve had conversations with many different people expressing the same sort of feelings…the same sort of pain and sorrow and disbelief…and I’ve heard statements of gratitude to hear that its okay to react to senseless things this way. (pause)
But time goes on…and in the short amount of time that has passed since that day, I’ve seen some things that have brought a smile to my face…some things worthy of happiness…things worthy of joy…things worthy of celebration. Things like spending time with a group of 5th graders…watching them get their hands dirty to help make the bread that we’ll share today in Communion…and laughing with them as we talked about the Lord’s Supper…those are good things…and it sheds just a touch of light on what Jesus says when he tells us…when he promises us that you are blessed now as you mourn for one day you will laugh again. (pause)

I think this is important for us, as a community who has recently endured a tragedy to hear…that yes we have all experienced pain and suffering…and in many ways we still are…but the promise of Christ is that joy WILL be found again. (Pause) Now that being said…one thing Jesus does not give us is a time frame. And so, if you are hearing this today, and within your life you are still experiencing pain of some kind, mourning or otherwise…and its still difficult to see the possibility that things could get better…that’s okay. (pause)

And on the flipside…if you find youself in a mode today where things are looking pretty good…just keep in mind…the cycle of life is going to bring around some bitterness again…and I think its pretty safe to say that this cycle just keeps on going…things go well, then something happens…and it sends us reeling…and we wallow in it for awhile, but then, right when we aren’t paying attention, things start to turn around again…That’s the craziness of life…and it seems a lot like that old saying about the weather in Iowa…wait 5 minutes…it’ll change. (pause)

But you know what…I stand here and I think about all these words I’ve said in the past few minutes…and I think it sounds pretty “self-helpy.” That yes life is rough but all you have to do is grit your teeth because it’ll get better…And I know that sometimes our experiences show us that this idea…is a big load of crap…and being honest about that raises the question…that where’s the gospel in the midst of all this? Where’s the good news?

And interestingly enough, we find it in a couple of very simple, almost throw away comments. First of all, think about the narration at the begin of what I read today…Jesus, God in human form…was up a mountain…but he came down to where the people are. And it was in the midst of them that he shares this teaching…but he’s also healing them…he’s meeting them in the midst of their pain and their suffering…and not only does he offer healing…but most importantly he offers them his very presence…Jesus, God in human form comes to where WE are…and is present in the midst of all this…the good and the bad.

And there’s another thing….keep in mind that throughout the Beatitudes, the statements tell us that things are one way now, but in the future they will be the opposite…you suffer now, but you will be better…You have it good now, but you will suffer hardship…that’s the way they are all listed…with one exception…

Throughout all of this…the one constant…is that the Kingdom of God…IS. Because the kingdom came among us when Jesus…God in human form made the choice to come down to where we are…the kingdom is present here…now…in the midst of whatever state we find ourselves in today…if we are mourning, the kingdom is here…if we are laughing and celebrating…the kingdom is here…and when we find ourselves in the midst of the craziness…the ever changing reality of life…the kingdom is here…and through Christ…we are made heirs of it.

And if we are heirs of the kingdom…then we are heirs to the promise of the Risen Christ…that where he is, we will also be…and today we look at those 4 candles…and we remember the 4 individuals that they represent…and we trust in the promise that Christ has made that the death which they have experienced doesn’t get the last word…God does…and I believe that those 4 people are in a place today where they want you to know it.

However you find yourself today, rest assured that the one who made you, sees you…and the promises are yours. Blessed are you…for yours IS the kingdom of God. Amen.

All Saints According to Titanic 11-2-14

This sermon is based on Revelation 7:9-14, one of the assigned readings for All Saints Sunday. Within the sermon I take a look at the tiny glimpse of what lies beyond death based on this passage from Revelation.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here:

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

Today is a busy day for us here at Underwood Lutheran isn’t it? (pause) In addition to all the normal aspects of worship, we’re celebrating All Saints Day…we’re joining with three young people in our congregation to celebrate a milestone in their life of faith…we’ll share in Holy Communion together in a few more minutes…it’s a busy day…about the only thing we’re missing is a baptism, then we’d have all the bases covered. (pause)

By now, I’m guessing that you’ve picked up on my tendency to relate pretty much everything to a movie…and today is no exception…As I thought about all the different things that we are packing into worship today, I started relating it to a film that does the same thing…Titanic, the 1997 powerhouse that covered all the bases. It had everything…a love story…intrigue…action…comedy…dancing…betrayal. (pause). Oh and somewhere along the way, the boat hits a iceberg and sinks right?

Interestingly enough…the final images from Titanic seem to hold a lot of the same images that we heard in the passage from Revelation. In the conclusion of the film…the narrator Rose…a very old woman who had been on board the Titanic…who had made a promise to her great love before he died that she would go on…dies in her bed after a long full life…and in the afterlife, she is transported back on board, where she walks through the lavish dining room among a great multitude of other people…a great crowd of individuals…too large to count…individuals from all walks of life…rich and poor, old and young, passangers and crew…all those who had died in the great ordeal of the ship sinking…and as Rose walks through all those people she is reunited with Jack…her great love…they embrace…the crowd all cheers…they are together forever…and no more tears are shed among these people. (pause)

Sound about right? A great crowd…those who have died, experiencing a great ordeal…and nor more tears in the afterlife…Titanic…and today’s lesson from Revelation. Hmmm…maybe James Cameron was reading this when he wrote the script.

There are many images from that movie that come to mind for me as I ponder on this passage today…one of which is the look of terror on the face of one passanger as the water comes rushing up to him…and he knows that he’s about to die…that he’s about to experience the unknown.

That sense of fear, or apprehension tends to be associated with the book of Revelation does it? It’s one of those books in the Bible that we tend to steer clear of…and why? Well, because its full of imagery that we just don’t quite understand…but we know that its related to the last days…to that great unknown when Jesus comes back…and to be sure, Revelation is full of crazy stuff…but in the midst of all that craziness…all that stuff that we tend to shy away from…we find that God is giving us a glimpse of what’s coming…its certainly not the entire picture…but it’s a glimpse.

And so perhaps its fitting that we hear these words today, on All Saints Sunday…as we sit here today and remember those who have gone on before us…those who have followed the path that one day we will all face…those who have tasted death…and what lies beyond it.

Often times in life, especially when we encounter death…we begin to wonder just what lies beyond it…sure we have the promises of God that we are saved from our sin…and that Jesus has gone on before us into death…doing something about it…preparing us a room in God’s heavenly house…but really…that’s about it…and if you’re anything like me…you see a lot of unknowns in all that. And perhaps in these moments we experience apprehension or fear about just what’s gonna happen. (pause)

Now I won’t stand here today and claim to have all the answers…because I’d be lying if I said that. But what a gift God gives us today, as we sit here thinking about death…thinking about our own mortality…what a gift to catch this little glimpse.

A great multitude…beyond measure…from every nation and tribe and people and language…standing before the throne of God…For with God there is no distinction…and all are welcomed regardless of where they came from…and together in one voice this great crowd declares the truth that salvation belongs to our God…and they find joy in it because they know not only that its true…but they know that God chooses to share it with us…and so they stand there and praise God before his throne into eternity.

And we hear a few verses later, that these are the people who have come through the great ordeal…but just what is this great ordeal? What is this great tribulation that they’ve come through? (pause) If we think about that last image from Titanic, the great crowd is made up of people who died on the ship…and I think this great ordeal that the author of Revelation is talking about is quite similar…this crowd, praising God on the throne, is made up of those who have lived life and through death been delivered from it…the great ordeal is our lives…the ups and downs…the back and forth…the good and the bad…because that’s life isn’t it? Even life as a believer…its tough.

We experience much hardship in life…and following God…believing in Christ…it doesn’t give us a free pass from suffering…it doesn’t eliminate pain…it doesn’t take away anguish…it doesn’t stop us from mourning…mourning the death of those we care about…mourning the trials and tribulations that we experience in our lives.

As I stand here before you today…I know some of these stories of suffering. For some of you it’s a lost job, lost income. For others, there has been the hardship of watching a loved one deteriorate and die. Others struggle in relationships…there are countless stories just in this room today, not to mention the countless stories of all those who have come before, all those living now, and all those to come in the future…Life, wonderful as it is…joyous as it can be…is a great ordeal…and to deny this is to deny the truth.

But yet, our lesson today tells us that those washed in the blood of the lamb have come through this ordeal…and their robes are white…gleaming…cleaner than any soap could ever make them…and in the great beyond…in whatever lies beyond this life…beyond this great ordeal, the blood of the lamb has cleansed those saints of everything that tainted them in life…sin is gone…suffering is over…pain is no more…because God has taken it away.

There’s one more image from Titanic that has always stuck with me, and ironically, it’s a direct quote from today’s scripture. Late in the movie, as the ship is about to go down…the weight of the water in one end begins to pull the ship up vertical…and in the midst of that a crowd of people cling to a priest…and he himself is clinging to post in order to hold himself steady…and he utters the words to these frightened people that God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes…and there will be no more death.

In the end…we know that death claims us all…just as it has claimed those saints that we honor here today…but we also cling to the hope that we find in God’s promise that death does not get the last word in our story…God does.

And when each of us walks that final road of this life…and when we leave behind the great ordeal that is this life…we cling to the promise that we will join that great multitude…and we too will wear the white robe…washed clean in the blood of the lamb…and we cling to the hope that God will wipe the tears from our eyes, because death and pain and suffering will no longer hold us.

And make no mistake this hope that we cling to is wonderful…but yet we also realize that we live in the tension now…here in this life…We know that we still experience the hardships and the pain…and we still experience the tears…because for us, Revelation chapter 7 hasn’t happened yet…and so in these times, when we find ourselves looking forward to the end and wondering what lies beyond it, we look to the end of Revelation. The final words of the Bible are Amen, come Lord Jesus.

We say Amen, because we believe this to be true…and we say Come Lord Jesus because we anxiously wait for him…and we live in the tension between the two…The tension between the Amen which leans back to the promises that God’s work of salvation in Jesus Christ is for you…and between the Come that leans forward to the day when we stand before the throne, content in the presence of our maker and redeemer.

So today, as we find ourselves in this tension between Amen and Come Lord Jesus…and as we remember those beloved saints who have gone on before us while we still struggle here in our great ordeal, we cling to the promise that Salvation belongs to our God…and that he shares it with us today. Amen.