Sermon, All Saints’ Day, 2016
First Reading, Revelation 7: 9-17
God still washes the white robe of righteousness we received in Baptism in the blood of the Lamb in the Church, through Word and Sacrament, and offers it to all who wish to wear it.
“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.” Revelation 7: 15-17, ESV
Thus far the text.
There is a lot of white in the church this Sunday: white paraments on the altar, white stole, even white worship folders. This is because today we are observing All Saints, Day, whose liturgical color is white, the color of purity. This is a special church festival when we remember and honor all those who have gone before us in faith, especially our brothers and sisters who have died since last All Saints’ Day, who are now in heaven with the Lord. The evangelist St. John wrote down the vision God granted him of the blessed gathering of the faithful, the saints, in heaven. And what a comforting vision it is for you and me who have lost loved ones. For we see that they are gathered in the presence of God, their heavenly Father, serving Him day and night in His Temple, where He shelters them by simply being near to them. They are protected by His almighty power forever from any harm. They don’t feel any hunger or thirst. They don’t feel the scorching heat of the sun or any burning pains.
For the Lamb, that is, Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, who is in the very midst of them, is their Shepherd. The Lord is their Shepherd. They shall not want. He guides them to springs of living water, the waters of the Holy Spirit, the waters of eternal life.
These saints who have been delivered from the tribulations and temptations of this world are now in the loving presence of the Triune God. Whatever sorrows they had on earth are over. We know this because John’s vision tells us that God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Sadness is gone. Only indescribable joy remains for them for eternity.
That vision is a great comfort and hope. It is a comfort for us who have lost a loved one who that suffered in this life from the pains of disease of the body or the mind. It is the comfort of parents whose children have been called to the Lord in heaven so early in their lives. For God has shown their parents a glimpse of their child’s blessed happiness
That vision given to Saint John and to be shared with the whole world, shows us our hope as children of God, too. This is what awaits us, if we keep steadfast in the Word, in the faith in God’s promises, to the end. We will be reunited with our loved ones, joining them in the presence of God, sharing their joy and victory, wearing the white robes.
Our reading from the Revelation to St. John mentions these white robes three times. St. John describes the saints clothed in white robes waving palm branches, as the crowd did on Palm Sunday. Then, a few verses later, the evangelist asks an elder, “ “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” And the elder answers, “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.” (Revelation 7:13-14, ESV).
We see, with Saint John, that all the saints wear white robes, which they have washed in the blood of the Lamb. As the Israelites were brought out of slavery in Egypt, and were delivered from the angel of death by the blood of the lamb painted above the doorframes of their houses, so God continues to bring His people from the tribulations and temptations of this world to the promised land and He still saves them from eternal death by the blood of the Lamb, His Lamb and His Son, Jesus Christ, who shed His blood on the cross for the sin of the whole world, so that all who believe this receive forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life. He promises this, and we receive it in faith.
To seal this promise of forgiveness through Christ’s atoning blood, He gives us the Sacrament of Baptism, in which our sins are washed away, we are given the Holy Spirit and faith, are adopted as children of God, and given Christ’s righteousness to wear before God. As a symbol of that righteousness you might have been given a white garment or cloth, to remember you are now clothed invisibly with the pure robe of Christ’s righteousness. God now looks at you and me and sees not our sins, but Christ’s robe covering our sins. This is the reason that pastors wear white robes–albs–in worship, to cover them, to point away from them and to Christ, and to represent the purity and righteousness of the Lord who speaks through the mouth of the man who wears the robe and stole.
This robe I wear needs to be laundered regularly. It picks up stains and dirt like any other piece of clothing. Our invisible robe of Christ’s righteousness needs to be washed regularly, too, not because it is imperfect, but we are imperfect. For although we have been declared righteous, the corruption of sin still clings to us until we die. We sin daily, in thought word, and deed, by what we do, and by what we leave undone. These daily sins are like spots on the pure white robe of Christ’s righteousness.
Ignoring them will not make them go away. Telling ourselves that they are not noticeable to others will not make them go away. Scrubbing at them with a homemade detergent, concocted of self-righteousness, self-justification, or defensiveness will not work either. Only one thing will wash away the stain of sin, and that is the blood of Christ.
And that purifying, cleansing, restoring blood is found wherever the Word of God is proclaimed in its purity, and where the washing of Baptism and the giving of the body and blood of the Lamb are done rightly, in the Church. Here, every Sunday, the blood of the Lamb is poured out for you. It flows in the words of Absolution for sins, the absolution won by the Lamb with His blood on mount Calvary. It cleanses with the hearing of the Word in the readings, the preaching, the liturgy. It comes to you inwardly, in the eating and drinking of the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion, cleaning the inside of the cup as well as the outside, the whole person, strengthening and preserving you in body and soul to life everlasting.
This is why coming to worship weekly is so important. Our robes get dirty during the week. They get stained with sin. They need to be washed regularly. And the more they are washed, the more they resist stain.
There is another reason we gather together in worship weekly. We see it in John’s vision of heaven. The saints are gathered together in the presence of the Lamb. They are not off by themselves in private cubicles. They are standing and kneeling and falling on their faces together, a veritable sea of white robes, waving palm branches in their hands. They are the body of Christ together, joining in hymns of praise and thanksgiving. They join with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
This morning, we are gathered with them here below, wearing the unseen robes of Christ’s righteousness given to us in our Baptisms, washed white today again in the blood of the Lamb, given in Word and Sacrament. We wave our palm branches of prayer and praise and offerings to the Lord. We kneel before the presence of the Lord at the altar rail and receive blessing, strength and forgiveness, cleansing in the body and blood of the Lamb.
Today we get a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb which will have no end. Someday, we too, will join the saints standing before the throne of God, as will our loved ones.
John’s vision is outside time. It is a vision of the Church now, in the fulness of time, and in eternity. In that blessed vision, John sees our sisters Kathy, and Wanda, and Gerry in their white robes. He sees all your loved ones who have gone before you in the faith. He sees you and me, too, in our white robes, washed in the blood of the Lamb. And He sees our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who are not only the future of the Church, but more importantly, whose future is in the Church. He sees them, whom we bring to God’s house to receive the white robe of Christ righteousness. We bring them back again and again to wash their baptismal robe of righteousness in His blood each week in God’s house, the Church, so they may say with their fathers and mothers, their grandmas and grandpas, their great grand moms and great granddads, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Given at Calvary Lutheran Church, Wellington, Kansas, November 6, 2016