S. All Saints.19 “Happy No Matter What” Rev. 7:9-17, Matt. 5:1-12
So, the Tuesday morning bible class gave me a double dog dare. If you know me, you will know that my inner 13 year old still influences me way too strongly. “I bet you can’t climb the tree and jump to the roof of that building.” “That seems like an incredibly bad idea. Why would I want to do that?” “Oh, it’s too hard for you. OK!… I double dog dare you.” And before I know it, the 13 year old me is up a tree.
The Tuesday group knows me. They know that, with Luther, I’ve long been skeptical about the canonical status of the Apocalypse of John, aka “Revelation” (it’s not Revelay-shuns by the way. It’s singular. Like Daylight Saving Time). So they figure it’s not something I’d ever preach a sermon on.
(Now, they don’t know that I’ve been reading a lot of Athanasius lately, the 4th century father and hero of mine, who did think Revelation was canonical—and as Bishop of one of the oldest sees in Christendom, a church founded and instructed by St. Mark (as in Gospel of!) they should be very clear on what is canonical Scripture and what not, more than that Arian heretic Eusebius. I think Luther and I were misinformed by fans of Eusebius and I’m re-thinking this…
Anyway, they were sure I wouldn’t preach a sermon on Revelation. So they double dog dared me to preach a sermon connecting the Countless Host, Arrayed in White from Revelation with the Suffering Slobs in Matthew, show the tie-in. Even my next door neighbor Jonathan egged me on. School Headmaster and Oxford PhD though he is, I think he’s in touch with his inner 13 year old as much as me. Chatting in the yard yesterday he wondered if I were preaching on All Saints, and then wondered how anyone could connect Revelation to the Beatitudes and even said “double dog dare”! My inner 13 year old took over, so here you go as sermon connecting the Host in White and the Suffering Slobs of the Beatitudes.
Previously, in the first 6 chapters of the Apocalypse of John, a lot has happened. While he’s in prison on Patmos, John gets a vision of the exalted Christ—Who gives John a message for the seven churches of Asia that John has served as a pastor, encouraging them to avoid idolatry and to hold fast the apostolic faith of Jesus. Then John gets a view of the throne room in Heaven, the glory of Christ, the Lamb once slain, the angels, archangels worshiping Him, the heavenly city, the sea of crystal, the marvels of heaven.
There is a scroll in the King of King’s hand and only the Lamb who’d been slain was worthy to loose the seals and open it. And when He does we see, in order: a Conqueror on a white horse, conflict on earth, famine on earth, widespread death on earth, the cry of the martyrs ‘how long’?, cosmic chaos in the heavens… and then:
Right before the seventh seal is opened, John sees Israel in glory. 12 x 12,000 and (a very ecologically friendly!) angel who says not to harm the earth, sea, or the trees until the saints of God are sealed (then, well, strip mine the heck out of it, lay it waste, I guess…?). There are 12,000 of each of the 12 tribes of Israel in heaven. 144,000.
Then Today’s Lection begins with “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and the Lamb arrayed in white, worshiping and rejoicing (the order of service seems to be pg. 15 from the ’41 Hymnal, as near as I can tell—which would partly explain their joy, right?). It is a wonderful scene: “blessing and glory and wisdom, eucharist and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” A marvelous scene!
Interesting though, right? So: there are 144,000 of Israel in heaven—but the multitude from all the nations cannot be numbered. Does that mean only 144,000 Jews make it, but the Gentiles are countless? Or is the 144,000 a mystical number signifying perfection though Israel cannot be numbered? Most like the latter explanation. Or the answer might be “Yes”. There is a lot to puzzle over in Revelation and no one dared me to take a stand on that question, so I leave it to you to ponder.
But here comes the connection I promised: one of the Watchmen (what the “elders” in Greek really are) comes to John and says “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” John is like “Uh, no idea! You tell me!” And he says “These are the ones who come out of the Great Tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, serve Him day and night in his temple… never hungry, nor thirsty, nor overheated, never sad, anymore. (See a connection with the Gospel?!!).
People read this and think the Great Tribulation is the persecution on earth Christians undergo for orthodox faith in Jesus. And it is that. But the angel makes clear it must be the Great Tribulation Jesus endured on the cross—His death in our place to satisfy the Law’s demands—because it washed them clean in Jesus’ blood. They are saints only because they have shared THAT—Jesus’ Blood, fully, faithfully, happily.
St. Paul says “Don’t you know? If you’ve been baptized into Christ Jesus, you’ve been baptized into His death!” You’ve shared His suffering, bleeding, the taunting, the cursing, the wounding, the hating—you’ve gotten in on all that. And dying with Him like this through Baptism, eating His Body, drinking His Blood in Holy Communion, crucified with Him you’re raised with Him to Life incorruptible, joy indescribable, to share and live the Divine Life of the Lamb as your very own, forever. And oh, what their joy and their glory must be, who’ve gotten in on THAT!
To suffer and die with Jesus is to share in His poverty, sadness, meekness, hunger, thirst, and persecution which grants a full share in His mercy, purity of heart, peacefulness… in his blessing, glory, wisdom, Eucharist, honor, power, and might!
You need to know the Greek word μακαριος is not quite so grand and stuffy as “Blessed”. Literally it’s just “happy” or fortunate. Happy, fortunate, lucky are those who are poor with Jesus, sad with Jesus, meek with Jesus, hungry and thirsty for righteousness with Jesus, merciful with Jesus, pure in heart with Jesus, crucified, wounded, bleeding, dying with Jesus. Because theirs is the Kingdom. To share the scorn, the bleeding and dying of Jesus, by Word and Sacrament through Faith alone, is to share just as fully, just as truly, the Crown, the Power, and the Glory of Jesus to boot. A great and most Happy Exchange, right?
There’s your connection! But there’s a slight catch: there is no Crown without the Cross. Sharing His sufferings as the first Beatitudes make clear is essential to share His power, glory, and life. But when you know that all the sufferings lead to Glory unspeakable they can not only be born, but they become positively badges of honor.
Most people are happy only when things go their way when they’re healthy, wealthy, and wise. But Jesus as God is Happy No Matter What. Even dying on the Cross, He is smiling big, inside: because He’s destroying death by dying, making it the Door to something Really Awesome.
There: I think I’ve satisfied the double dog dare. The connection between the Glorious Saints in Revelation and the suffering sad sacks in Matthew is the Great Tribulation of Jesus’ Cross. By Word and Sacrament you get in on THAT now, so you too are Happy No Matter What, as Peace surpassing understanding guards heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.