All Saints’ Day
Sunday, November 1, 2015
“Church Militant, Church Triumphant: All Saints” (Revelation 7:2-17)
Today, November 1, is All Saints’ Day on the church-year calendar. This is a day for remembering our departed fellow Christians–those saints of old, as well as those from our own past–who have fallen asleep in Jesus and who now rest from their labors. Today we give thanks to God for keeping them in the faith; we are encouraged by the example of their perseverance amid affliction; and we rejoice and are filled with hope as we look forward to the glory that awaits us all. All Saints’ Day serves all of these purposes.
The glory that awaits us. One of the readings assigned for this day, appropriately enough, gives us a glimpse of that glory. It’s the reading from Revelation 7, a picture of the saints in glory: “Behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes,” etc. That’s what we just sang about in the hymn: “Behold a host, arrayed in white.”
But notice, our reading today from Revelation 7 actually comes in two parts. The picture of the saints in glory, verses 9-17, is part two, if you will. The first part, verses 2-8, presents a different-looking picture. There we see the 144,000, arranged in twelve tribes of 12,000 each, and they are sealed with the seal of living God before great harm is unleashed on the earth. This is quite a different scene from the one that follows.
And there’s a reason for that. In verses 2-8, St. John is given a picture of the church on earth, as it is now, organized for battle and under the protection of God. This is what we call the church militant, the church still fighting the good fight of the faith. But then in verses 9-17, John is given a picture of the church in heaven, as it will be, no longer fighting, no longer suffering, but at peace and at rest in the presence of the Lord. This is what we call the church triumphant. And I want to tell you today, both pictures give us great comfort and great hope, for now and for what lies ahead. And so our theme this morning: “Church Militant, Church Triumphant: All Saints.”