First Lesson for All Saints Sunday (Observed)
2Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” 4And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
512,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 612,000 from the tribe of Asher,12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 712,000 from the tribe of Simeon,12,000 from the tribe of Levi,12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 812,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
9After this I looked, and 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, with palm branches in their hands,10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Do you ever feel like a small cog in a large wheel? In my last parish back in the summer of 2004, I attended my first National Youth Gathering in Orlando, Florida with four of our Lutheran teenagers. Walking into a worship service with 30,000 Lutheran youth all singing and speaking the same words sung and spoken last Sunday in our home parish certainly gives “the small cog” a much more expansive vision of the church. Women who have attended National LWML Rally’s or other laity who have attended national conventions and other church events all comment on the once-in-lifetime worship services they experienced. These mass worship services with thousands of Lutherans singing and speaking hymns are often transcendent experiences. It truly is something to have taught these young people in confirmation class and then to see their reactions when experiencing 30,000 people singing the Sanctus and Agnus Dei at “the banquet feast which has no end.” Words can’t do justice to describing such an experience.
My friend, Pastor Phil, tells a similar story at his first parish in Salt Lake City where 92% of the population were LDS (Latter Day Saints) and many of them were ardently LDS. He had a small group of 5 teens that lived among the other 8% of the population in the LDS dominant schools, youth sports, and most every activity they participated in the community. Being in high school is always a bit of a challenge, in that context it could be doubly difficult. One of the best things Phil’s parish did was send those 5 teenagers to the National Youth Gathering. What truly made the difference was the first night and walking in a stadium filled with nearly 30,000 young Lutherans. He had taught his Lutheran Youth had that the Christian church was far larger than the LDS church. But they really could not internalize that. For those who grew up in that community, they had been the tiny minority in every classroom they had ever experienced. One young man from Phil’s parish, standing in awe at the entrance to the arena seating area, looked at Phil and asked, “Who are all these people?” Pastor Phil told him they were all Lutherans, like him. The youth spent the next five days getting his head around that. He had no idea that there were so many Lutheran young people. He returned to his 92% LDS high school that fall feeling differently.
This past summer we incorporated praying for the persecuted in our weekly Sunday prayers. Survivors of persecution have often said that the final goal of the evil one is to cause you to lose hope. The devil wants nothing more than to cause the Christian to believe that God has forgotten about you, that you are alone, the last one, a dying minority, insignificant and inconsequential. I do not think that is only in places and times of persecution. The devil works that same despair in many ways.
Each Sunday I look around our parish, and maybe you do to, and wonder what happened to this person or that person? You might think back further in decades past when St. Peter had two or three services a Sunday with 200+ people in worship. There are many Christian churches in North America that are not full. This sense of being alone has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Even as services are allowed, some elect not to come because they are especially vulnerable or fearful or even worse – they have figured out how to get along without their faith community. Zoom meetings and streaming video services are what we can do, but they are not the same as time spent together. It is easy for the Christian to feel isolated.
Look at verse 9 in this reading again. John was exiled to Patmos, in a cave, all alone. It must have been glorious for him to see that vision of a mighty, innumerable host. This is the reason God is sharing it with you: you need to see it too. You need that experience of that young Lutheran youth standing in the stadium at a National Youth Gathering. You are part of a great and mighty host. You are gathered around the throne and the Lamb and “the banquet feast which has no end” every Sunday. This Sunday, All Saints Sunday, captures this moment as we gather in our parish and remember not only those saints who have passed away in the Christian faith, but the angels and the archangels, and the whole company of heaven, and the whole christian church on earth joining their voices and lives across time and space and singing…
Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth;
heav’n and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He
that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.
Today’s “a devotion for you…” is edited, revised and adapted, with permission, from original content from colleague and friend, Phil Brandt.