All Saints and All Souls

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Opening Hymns

Readings

Revelation 7:9-end (NLT)

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
    and from the Lamb!”

11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
    and thanksgiving and honour
and power and strength belong to our God
    forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?” 14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
    and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
    will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
    they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
17 For the Lamb on the throne
    will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
    And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Matthew 5:1-12 (NLT)

One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
    for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

Homily

Revelation is a funny book. It sits at the end of the bible a kind of postscript written in weird apocalyptic language. It is a record of a vision given to John – it’s not clear which John this is, it might be John the Apostle and Gospel writer, but he doesn’t refer to himself as that and there are some differences in the writing style, what’s important is that the record of the vision he had was considered sufficiently significant that the early church sought to protect and store his writing, eventually including it in the canon we have today. It’s a description of a vision he had which frankly reads like something out of science fiction in places! As a result that can often throw people, who read a bit, think it’s weird and hard to understand (both of which are true!) and move on to something easier, which is a shame, because in doing that you can miss some of the most exciting passages in scripture.

The important thing to remember is the bible is made of many books, it’s a library if you like. Now, you don’t read poetry in the same way you read a text book, a newspaper article or a novel. In the same way it’s helpful to remember Revelation is not meant to be an historical account, like the gospels, or a letter of advice, like the epistles, or a poem like the psalms. It speaks into the future and is a record of a dream or vision held by the authour.

Now think of some of the dreams you have had – weird, aren’t they? And Revelation is the same. So why record it? Well the early church thought it was worthy to keep and share because they thought the picture language it uses tells us about God. It’s not meant to be read as a text book of what will happen, or an historical account of what has happened, it’s meant to be something that speaks into the situation of the person who had the vision, John, given for a specific place and time. It might be helpful to recognise that much of it is written in symbolic language and code. Some of this was down to the persecution Christians were facing at the time from Roman Emperor Nero. It was safest to keep that which might prove controversial (i.e. worship of a God other than the Roman Emperor) a secret. Christians were thought to be subversive and so they had to live out their faith often as secretly as possible. When you learn of the circumstances its easy to see why they might think the end of the world was imminent, and why this vision was precious to them.

So why keep it? Why is Revelation useful for us to read today? I think one of the most important things it brings is hope. How we find hope when we think about the life to come. After all our passage from the epistle set for today from 1 John 3 says that no one really knows what it will be like, and we should always be wary that there is a real danger of trying to read things into the text, but I think there are a few helpful things we can draw from this passage;

Firstly the picture is of ‘a multitude from every tribe and tongue and nation’ there is no discrimination in the kingdom of God, this is a place for us all, not just for those who might have considered themselves God’s people at the time.

Secondly this is a place of unity, all bow and worship together saying the same words of worship, there are no denominations, no favoured groups in the kingdom of God, all people are equal before the throne.

Thirdly they have come through as great ordeal and are robed in white, if we assume that white is a symbol of purity we can assume that despite being tested, despite the troubles of life, whatever that ordeal may have been they have prevailed, they are forgiven and washed clean of all that was bad.

Finally, this is a good place, they are not thirsty or hungry, they are not in any discomfort, there is no more sadness, heaven, if we choose to call it that, is a place of joy and worship, a place where no longer can the trials of this life harm us. For all who have lost loved ones or who are approaching the end of life, this is an important passage.

It’s a beautiful picture, something that has given hope to the bereaved, the dying and the oppressed down the ages. That, I think, is why Revelation, despite its weirdness was kept as part of scripture. For the hope which shines through it, we cannot understand it, we will never really know what eternity is like on this side of life, but John’s vision gives hope that there are better things to come.

As we come together on All Saints day to remember all those faithful who have gone before, we can be comforted by the picture from Revelation of the hope of heaven, a place where there is no more hunger or sadness, crying or pain, rather it is a place of hope, of joy and of worship.

Intercessions

United in the company of all the faithful and looking for the coming of the kingdom, let us offer our prayers to God, the source of all life and holiness.

Merciful Lord,
strengthen all Christian people by your Holy Spirit,
that we may live as a royal priesthood and a holy nation
to the praise of Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Lord, in your mercy
All   hear our prayer.

Bless Christopher and John our bishops and all ministers of your Church,
that by faithful proclamation of your word
we may be built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets
into a holy temple in the Lord.
Lord, in your mercy
All   hear our prayer.

Empower us by the gift of your holy and life-giving Spirit,
that we may be transformed into the likeness of Christ
from glory to glory.
Lord, in your mercy
All   hear our prayer.

Give to the world and its peoples
the peace that comes from above,
that they may find Christ’s way of freedom and life.
Lord, in your mercy
All   hear our prayer.

Hold in your embrace all who witness to your love in the
service of the poor and needy;
all who minister to the sick and dying;
and all who bring light to those in darkness.
Lord, in your mercy
All   hear our prayer.

Touch and heal all those whose lives are scarred by sin
or disfigured by pain,
that, raised from death to life in Christ,
their sorrow may be turned to eternal joy.
Lord, in your mercy
All   hear our prayer.

Remember in your mercy all those gone before us
who have been well-pleasing to you from eternity;
preserve in your faith your servants on earth,
guide us to your kingdom
and grant us your peace at all times.
Lord in your mercy
All   Hear our prayer.

Hasten the day when many will come
from east and west, from north and south,
and sit at table in your kingdom.
Lord in your mercy
All   Hear our prayer.

We give you thanks
for the whole company of your saints in glory,
with whom in fellowship we join our prayers and praises;
by your grace may we, like them, be made perfect in your love.
Blessing and glory and wisdom,
thanksgiving and honour and power,
be to our God for ever and ever.
All   Amen.

Prayers from Common Worship (c) Archbishops Council 2000

Closing Hymn

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