Homily for All Saints (2005) - Revelation 7:9-17 / 1 John 3:1-3 / Matthew 5:1-12
All saints goes wrong when one sees the great crowd and starts analyzing and poking at them, focusing on them, instead of focusing on what they are focused on. For when you look at the crowd the one thing that surely strikes you is that they are all staring in the same direction, gazing upon the same object, with the same look of astonishment and awe and love upon their faces.
Otherwise they are very different – some were among the rich and most among the poor, some black and some white, some red and some yellow, some struggled with this sin and some with that, some thought one thing and some another. Oh, they are a very diverse crowd in so many ways.
But the thing that holds them together as ONE crowd is the object on which they are fixed and the love and awe that shine from them as they rejoice to look upon what they look upon.
So one does not analyze that look and imitate it outwardly so that one can sort of “fit into the crowd.” That’s to be what Dr. Luther calls “a paper saint.” Instead, one pushes this way and that to get in and get a glimpse of what it is that they are all so intent upon! Because if you do that, then you too – no matter what the unique struggles and burdens of your life - will come to wear the same look of astonishment and awe and love on your face. Not because you’re trying to be like the crowd, but because you also see what the crowd has seen – and you’ll drop to your knees too, and awe and love will shine from your face as well.
So onto the first reading, where we meet them. A multitude so great that no one could fix a number on it – from all the nations, tribes, peoples and tongues of the earth – clothed in white and bearing aloft the palm branch of victory in their hands, shouting, proclaiming and saying. But what is that they are focused on? Not on themselves! Where are they staring? Not at each other! They are all facing the throne of God and of the Lamb. And they sing aloud: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb!”
Do you see the look of awe and wonder on their faces? They are now seeing Him with the eyes of the body whom they had heard before with their ears. He is their Joy and their Delight. They sing with the Psalmist: “Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and there is none upon the earth that I desire besides Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
And what a portion He is! “They are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits upon the throne shelters them with His presence. Nothing in all creation can harm them! For the Lamb in the midst of the throne is their Shepherd, and He guides them to springs of living water, and God Himself wipes away every tear from their eyes.” A huge portion, indeed!
And so they stare into the face of Him who is the Gift of all of this and more, the One they call the Lamb, the One we call Jesus – a gift beyond all meriting or deserving. A gift that is all the more astonishing because of how it was given. For when the Father saw our desperate plight, He did not only send us prophets with words of judgment and hope, He not only gave a Law to show us our great need, but finally at the last, He sent to us His beloved and only Son. Sent Him into our flesh from the Virgin’s holy womb. He came among us not only to pay the debt of honor we all owed to the Father and could not pay, but He came to do far more! He came to release us from the prison of our sin and death, to clothe us with His own righteousness, to bring us into His Father’s house and make us co-heirs with Him of His glory. He came to summon us to the feast, that we might sit down beside Him at the Father’s table and enjoy a life – a feast - that no death will never destroy and no sin can never take away.
But it is when the saints look at him and see HOW He did all this that their love and joy overflow. “Rich wounds yet visible above in beauty glorified.” They see on His body - the marks left by all our sore abuse of Him. They see where the nails were driven, where the spear ran through, where the whip scarred his sacred back. All of which was our telling Him: You get out of our world and leave us alone! We don’t need you! To which He responded, “I love you and I forgive you and there is nothing you will ever be able to do that will make me hate you. I blot out your sin. I destroy your enemy the devil, I abolish your death!”
And seeing Him so they are changed, transfigured. Our epistle today said: “Beloved, now we are the children of God and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope purifies himself, just as He is pure.” Merely having that hope, being baptized into it, already changes a person, but when that hope is realized, when you stare into the face of Him who loved you to the cross and resurrection, and has at last brought you home, you will be “like Him.” Seeing Him will change everything.
And so the crowd stares at this Lamb! Sings to this Lamb! Falls down before this Lamb, this Lord Jesus! That's why I kneel during the Words of Institution, for after the word of Jesus has been spoken over the bread, that bread is the Body of the Lamb; and after the word of Jesus has been spoken over the cup, that cup is the Blood of the Lamb. The Holy Liturgy offers a teasing taste of this as we are summoned to join their endless doxologies…with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
And make no mistake about it: this is what makes a saint, to be part of this crowd, that from the heart sees Jesus as this Lamb, the One given for us, and so forever in love worships and praises Him! To ache for the day when we will see Him whom we have loved without seeing..
On the mountain Jesus sat and around Him gathered his disciples. And He spoke blessing on them as they looked into His face. But they would fully understand those blessings only when they came to know that the One blessing them was none other than their Lamb, the Lamb given them by the Father’s love. Blessings that would reach their ultimate fruition when they stand before Him with the whole crowd on that glorious day and experience the unspeakable comfort of a nail-scared hand, gently touching each face, wiping away every tear. Blessed indeed are all who in that crowd! Blessed are all who see and praise the Lamb! All saints! Amen.