Community Baptist Church of Gay Head in Aquinnah
November 1, 2020
Sermon, “All Hallows’ Day”
+Reading: Revelation 7:9-17
After this I looked and saw a multitude too large to count, from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. And they fell facedown before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Then one of the elders addressed me: “These in white robes,” he asked, “who are they, and where have they come from?”
“Sir,” I answered, “you know.”
So he replied, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple; and the One seated on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. Never again will they hunger, and never will they thirst; nor will the sun beat down upon them, nor any scorching heat.’ For the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd. ‘He will lead them to springs of living water,’ and ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
Yesterday was Halloween, one of my favorite days of the year as a kid. Once upon a time, we’d all go up and down the streets, asking for a trick or a treat, from house to house and neighbor to neighbor. I met neighbors I didn’t even know I had every Halloween, but to be honest, I was less focused on the meet and greets and more focused on collecting treats!
2020 wasn’t quite like that for my daughter, but hey, that’s 2020 for you. I’m sure 2021 will be different!
As it turns out, Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, is a celebration that marks the eve of another celebration — All Hallows’ Day, or some even call it Hallowmas! You may also know it as All Saints’ Day.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that I know how generations of Christians have traditionally celebrated this holiday, as the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians still do proper, since I’ve pretty much always been in Protestant churches. But I want to take our Catholic and Orthodox brethrens’ continued observation of this ancient holiday as a jumping off point for today’s meditation. I think there is much to learn about the mystery of the “communion of the hallows” or “saints” that can edify our church and our individual walks, if we give it a little consideration.
Now, when you walked into this chapel, you may have noticed we don’t have icons of saints up and around about; we don’t have a separate little chapel for praying to the Mother of God; we don’t have a lot of the things that those churches with older traditions have in their meeting places. But do you know what type of “furniture” — dare I say — we have in common?
The Altar. And because we have that Altar, we can be sure the saints are here. Even if we don’t have icons of them on the walls or pictures of them stained into the glass. They’re here in spirit, and this altar might just do a better job at reminding us of that than all the icons and stained glass in the world. And we’re going to explore just why that is.
How fitting and auspicious that this years’ All Hallows’ Day happens to fall on our little congregation’s monthly Communion Sunday. Because what we’re going to see is that the Altar is more than just a piece of furniture that sits at the front of the church. This altar — right here — is the very place where heaven touches earth. This altar is the altar of our Lord, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world — and according to John the Revelator, where the Lamb is, there is the Throne; and not only is this the very throne of God come to us, but also, John tells us, the whole of the host of heaven are present, gathered around this throne to worship God, a “great cloud of witnesses.”
We remember, after all, that when we eat the Lord’s body and drink his blood at the altar, He dwells in us and we in Him. Therefore, all who drink of the body and the blood dwell in Him, and when He comes to dwell in us, they too dwell in us through Him. And we in them.
Kind of weird to think about, right? Wheels within wheels. When we partake of the body and blood, by way of this same mystery we also partake of those who came, and have gone to glory, before us.
So, in the spirit of All Hallow’s Day, let’s ask ourselves, who has run this race of faith before us, whom we wish to remember? Let’s say their names — whether those whom we knew and loved or even those whom we never knew, but inspire our faith.
St. Mary, St. Francis, St. Cecilia, Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham, Dorothy Day, my friend Jeff. Keith Green, Martin Luther.
Let us hold them in our hearts, commending them to God, and profess our faith that they are with God in Heaven, as our Lord promises. Amen.
And, I think even the Baptist tradition allows to us to pray that they put a good word in with the Big Guy for us, as do the Catholics and Orthodox etc, if only because we have that ole’ Gospel song, “If you make it in glory, before I do, save a seat for me!”
When we pray, our prayers join with those gone to glory before us. That’s what John the Revelator was seeing — a heaven that is open to God’s people, whose gates were opened by the blood of Jesus. Isn’t that our faith — that those who fall asleep in Christ rise with him in heaven? Surely they pray for us. We know they do, because all saints should always, always make it a habit to pray with and for all the saints! Ephesians reminds us to “make supplications for all the saints”, and 1st Timothy urges us “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people”. If we who live on earth do it, where our obedience is imperfect, how much more do you think our brothers and sisters who made it to glory in heaven do it?
While the folk mythology of All Hallow’s Eve says that the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest at this time, the gospel truth of All Hallow’s Day is that in Christ, there is no veil. Indeed, he reveals that God the Father “is not the God of the dead, but the living, for to Him all are alive.” “In Him, we move and have our being.” And according to the Last Supper prayer of Christ, who conquered death, we are one in Him.
That old hymn which we sang this morning, “The Church’s One Foundation,” puts it in a very simple and beautiful way: “Yet she on earth hath union / With God the Three in One, / And mystic sweet communion / With those whose rest is won.” It calls to mind the Apostle who tells us that we’ve come to “the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven…to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” By what means? By the “sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”, that is, the blood of “Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant.”
Where do we find the sprinkled blood of the covenant? Jesus tells us that it’s in the cup of thanksgiving, the cup of communion, when he says “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.”
You can see how Communion Sunday is such a great day to meditate on the spirit of All Hallows’ Day — our connection with this “great cloud of witnesses” who surround us. And you can see how All Hallows’ Day is a great day to meditate upon the mystery of the Lord’s Supper! For in the celebration of the Eucharist, which means the Thanksgiving, we sacramentally participate in these divine realities. Much like Baptism is a sacramental participation in the reality of our death and rebirth in Christ, the Lord’s Supper on earth is how we participate in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in Heaven, which John the Revelator saw. All of the great cathedrals of Christendom, with their sprawling artwork and stained glass windows, were born out of the romantic desire to illustrate the heavenly reality of what happens at the altar every time the body and blood of Christ are offered on Sunday morning.
We don’t need to see it to believe it. But we do need to believe it if we ever want to see it.
Like the old song, “Who shall wear the robe and crown? Good Lord, show me the way — O sinners, let’s go down, down to the river to pray” — there’s only one way to the glory that gives us robe and crown, and that’s down to the river to pray. Which river? Well, the river that John the Revelator saw in his vision. He didn’t just see all the righteous people standing around the throne singing their worship — but he also saw a river flowing from that throne, out to the nations. Now I ask you, are there nations in heaven? Probably not! But where do we find nations? Here on earth. So surely, this heavenly river also flows through the earth.
Now, Bible experts, doesn’t Jesus tell us that we might find the river of life while we are on the earth? Where?
“He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”
Now, all great cities settle on the water. The Nile; the Euphrates; the Jordan; the Mississippi; the Hudson and the East River, etc. The New Jerusalem, the city of God and His people, sits on a river whose water comes from the throne of God — and though the saints who have gone to glory from us get to hang out around that throne in heaven, we still live on the same river they do, drinking from it just as much as they. It might seem to human eyes that we stand on opposite banks of the river, but through the eyes of the spirit, we see that we are all gathered into our Lord. We are one in the body and blood: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”
Yes, we are all one in this Body. We have “one Lord; one faith; one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
And we also drink from one cup.
Let us close by listening to our Lord pray for us, and joining with Him in our hearts and committing ourselves to His purpose. Dr. Taylor Marshall says of the saints that “their cooperation with grace brings glory to God and fulfills the petition of the Our Father — hallowed be thy name.” Indeed, we can think of no greater way to celebrate All Hallow’s Day than to listen with obedient love to Our Lord’s prayer for His hallows, His sanctified ones, His saints, that they — that we — may be one:
Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I have also sent them into the world. For them I sanctify Myself, so that they too may be sanctified by the truth.
I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one—I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.
Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, that they may see the glory You gave Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, although the world has not known You, I know You, and they know that You sent Me. And I have made Your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love You have for Me may be in them, and I in them.”