Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 2, 2014

2014.11.02 “A Prayer for All Saints” – Revelation 7: 9 – 17

Central United Methodist Church
A Prayer for All Saints
Pastor David L. Haley
Revelation 7: 9 – 17
All Saints Sunday
November 2, 2014

 AllSaintsSunday

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”– Revelation 7: 9 – 17

 

Today, on All Saints Sunday, what we say (including what I say) is less important that what we do: which is to remember and honor our beloved dead, those dear to us.

We faithfully celebrate All Saints primarily for two reasons: (1) because it is an ancient and universal tradition, going back to early in the human race; and (2) because it is important and meaningful to us.

It goes way back. Halloween, for example. Wasn’t yesterday the worst Halloween ever? It was cold and windy and raining and sleeting and snowing all at the same time. This year the trick was on us, by Mother Nature. The treats will be mostly enjoyed not by trick-or-treaters but by those of us who bought large quantities of candy in advance, not knowing how bad the weather was going to be. Knowing how much children enjoy Halloween and “trick-or-treating,” I felt sorry for all the little kiddos for whom the weather was too much. I commend those hardy parents and children who did brave the elements long enough to salvage Halloween, and finally make it home with their wet costumes and candy.  Pam said her grandchild was going to go as a Star-Wars character; I told her I thought a Wookie (covered in fur) might be a good choice. Or R2D2 or CP30, as long as the metal was galvanized.

I know some people criticize Halloween as being associated with the dark side and pandering to our baser nature (begging for candy?), but it’s really the contemporary version of a very ancient festival that has been celebrated for centuries in European culture, especially Celtic culture.

As I understand it, the Celtic Year began with the celebration of Samhain (pronounced ‘sow’inn’), which was a celebration of the end of the harvest season. It was also believed to be a time when the veil between this world and the other world was at its thinnest: when the spirits of the dead – both good and bad – could mingle again with the living.

In the celebration, sometimes a visual aid was used, not a pumpkin but an apple. Apple trees had significance to pagan Celts: they come into blossom in the spring (which the Celts saw as a symbol of love and fertility) and throughout the year the fruit continues to develop and ripen. (That’s what many of us are doing, right, continuing to develop and ripen.)  Because many varieties of apples, when stored, keep over a long period of time, this was symbolic of love’s presence, even long past the time of peak ripeness. And then, should the apple fall to the ground, it contained the seeds from which life begins again.

So when what was once a pagan culture became Christian, these pagan festivals were then incorporated into Christian holidays, as is the case with most Christian holidays, including Christmas and Easter. Even now, at this time of year, we celebrate All Hallows Eve (Halloween) followed by All Saints and All Souls Day. On this holiday and on this weekend, in church we remember and honor our dearly departed dead; I would feel remiss if we did not do it. (The information about Samhain is from John Birch, Praying Through the Celtic Year at Faith and Worship.com)

Of course, it was not just European culture; it is every culture, including all those cultures we have come from, whether African, Asian, East Indian, Hispanic, Native American, or Filipino. All cultures have their religious and cultural equivalents of remembering and honoring the dead. Look, for example, at the Spanish “Dia de los Muertos.” Now that I know about it, I feel like I’m missing out not to have both skeletons and food laid out in my living room, or not to mention going picnicking in the cemetery.

We do rituals like this because no matter who we are or where we come from, we realize we are not to first to live and die; we know we have been blessed and cared for by those who have gone before; we know that even though they have died, we still feel and treasure their presence with us.

That’s why the celebration of All Saints and the remembering and honoring of our sacred dead is both important and meaningful to us, even if we have to search for words and ways to express how we feel about them. While they are no longer with us physically, yet we believe that in ways we cannot understand, they are with God, and in God’s keeping.  And most inexplicably, as most of us know who have lost loved ones, they are in ways beyond words, still with us.

For most of us, it is not an abstract concept; it’s real people we know and miss. Here in our congregation, in the last year, we are missing Josephine Edwardson, Lillian Forbes Wegener, and Rus Parker. And there is a host of names from previous years, people who not that long ago, were sitting here in these same pews that we are, people whose names and faces we remember.

As your pastor, I share in your families, and your grief upon their loss. Sometimes, while working, I come across a name and a face pops into mind. I have served five churches, as well as other places, and for me some whole congregations now exist mainly as a memory, because almost all of the people I served in those congregations have died. There are some cemeteries I can walk around – such as Glen Oak Cemetery in West Chicago, where I served for 17 years – where there are a lot of names on graves of people I knew. The older we get, the more this is true.

For example, I was reminded of and remembering this week, a former parishioner, Bob Behmer. Bob was a wonderful old Chicagoan, a member of my church in West Chicago.  His wife Ruth died, and Bob himself had many health problems. But through it all, he never lost his sense of humor, and was always a joy to visit.  I would ask, “Bob, how you doing?”  He would reply, “I’m like the man who jumped off a 20 story building.  As he fell past the 10th floor he was heard to say, ‘So far I’m doing OK.’” Once on Thanksgiving, he took out of the oven the turkey his wife was cooking, and substituted a Cornish Hen. It’s a wonder he lived as long as he did. Bob used to sing in the choir, and he predicted that the day of his funeral, one of the choir members who used to rib him was going to come in, see him lying in his casket and say, “O Bob, you always were flat.”  Bob was just one of the “saints” I have known, by whom my life is richer.

Occasionally those of us in church make the offhand remark that we “own” the church, or that it is “our” church, but nothing could be further from the truth. Five churches and forty years of ministry have taught me this: we are all passing through, “renters” not “owners.” There is a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, that reminds us: “Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received – only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.”

And then there are those closest to us: our grandparents, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, some of our closest friends, and most difficult of all, sometimes our own children. As all of us know who have lost loved ones, it is never easy. On any given day, we may still see their faces and hear their voices in our minds.  Some days it’s still hard to believe that they are gone from us. And yet, in a very real sense, they are not: their presence is still with us. Just as we believe, that after we are gone, so our presence will be with our children.

Given how strongly we feel about this, should it be surprising, that when we turn to our sacred Scriptures, some have tried to look into heaven and express the inexpressible? This morning, for example, in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, when John the Revelator looked into heaven he saw:

“A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

Someone came up and asked, “Who are these?” Then one of the    elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is          seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and   thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” – Revelation 7: 9 – 17

Today, on All Saints Sunday, as we remember those we have loved and lost to death, to express what we hope but cannot understand, may this be our prayer for all those we remember so fondly and miss so dearly:

May the One seated on the throne shelter them.  Amen.

May they hunger and thirst no more.  Amen.

May neither heat nor cold nor anything oppress them.  Amen.

May the Lamb on the throne be their Shepherd.  Amen.

May he guide them to the springs of the water of life.  Amen.

May God wipe away every tear from their eyes, and from our eyes, now and evermore.  Amen.

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