What’s Next For the Saints?
A sermon preached by the Reverend Trevor Jamison,
Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields,
November 1st 2020 – All Saints Day
What’s next? Go to lockdown, go straight to lockdown; do not enter tier 3; do not collect together at church for worship. But what follows that? What’s next?
I don’t know the answer to that, and I strongly suspect that our government isn’t too sure either. We live in the era of pandemic; that time when Covid 19 affects the life of ‘a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.’ (7:9) None of them and none of us can be sure about what’s coming next as far as Covid 19 is concerned, and the limitations it will place upon our lives. That’s frustrating and frightening, and it’s hard to see an end to it all.
That’s where this reading from Revelation speaks a word of hope. Without trivialising our current situation; never suggesting we close our eyes to current reality; this vision of all the saints at worship encourages us to look beyond where we currently are, find hope in where, ultimately, we are going.
Now, it’s a vision, it’s a revelation. It came to someone called John, whilst he was on the island of Patmos. It’s not a tv “fly on the wall” documentary, describing in mundane, realistic detail what’s going on with those who have gone before us in faith, or how things will look to us when we get to see God. Yet, it’s a picture of the wider reality within which we should view what’s happening to us in the here and now.
First, this vision, this inspired expression of faith, tells of what it is like to be with God, in the company of a host of others.
This picture is of a multitude of people too large to count; infinite in its variety of nation, race, and language; our reminder that to be with God is to be in the company of all peoples. Think of any sort of person in the world today, including yourself, and know that all will be there before God. Also, think about all the people who have been and who will be, past and future, and, along with us from the present, we will all be with God. We live in a moment when a virus is affecting the lives of all people, but ultimately all these and more can be with God.
So, first, this vision tells us that to be with God is to be in the company of a host of others. Second, it says that being with God fills us with thanksgiving and praise. In John’s vision this crowd, ‘fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing’ (7:11, 12) – aren’t they the lucky ones! No face masks are required as they sing their praises of God: blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour and might, ‘be to our God for ever and ever! Amen’ (7:12)
Maybe the prospect of an eternity of hymn singing doesn’t appeal. Don’t worry, this is a vision, not a documentary. Imagine being part a football crowd chanting at full volume, crossed with being in a choir harmonising on top form, multiplied by being carried away by the atmosphere at a music festival, and you begin to get a hint of what John is driving at. And we are told that the reason the multitude are so inspired is their gratitude because God has brought them through an ordeal, out the other side of a time of tribulation. (7:14, 15)
So, this vision tells us that being with God is being in the company of a host of others. Then, it says that being with God will fill us with thanksgiving and praise, and then, finally, that we should put our faith in the power and love of God, for ourselves and for others.
God, says this this vision, ensures that ‘they will hunger no more and thirst no more,’ they won’t be burned by the scorching heat, ‘and will be guided to the springs of the water of life’, by ‘their shepherd’ (7:16, 17). This is the same Lord God who appears as the shepherd in Psalm 23, leading the sheep beside the still waters. (23:2) The power and love of God, Revelation declares, carries us, and has carried others before us, through suffering, through death, so as to ‘wipe every tear from their eyes,’ (7:16) Ultimately, God is bringing us to a place of safety and shared joy.
Whatever happens next, regarding Covid 19, will be significant for us, as individuals, as a church, as a nation, as humankind. No government should stint in its response, and we individuals should do all that is possible to protect ourselves and others. It has not been easy so far, and it will not be easy going forward, but remember, it all is part of a journey whose ultimate destination is to be with God and to be in the company of others; a place of joyful thanksgiving and praise; where we are made safe through God’s power and in God’s love.
So, we join with all the saints to say and sing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might, be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’