“All Together Now” – A Sermon on Revelation 7:9-17

 

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Yesterday I saw “This Random Life” at the Ensemble Theater. It’s a play about people who feel very disconnected from the people who are supposedly closest to them. A brother and sister who annoy, resent, and worry about each other by turns. Their mother who hides the reality of her life from them to protect them from being consumed by concern for her. Her aide, who spends every day tending to her but conceals the most significant events of her life from her employer. The aide’s sister, separated from her by grief over the death of their mother and the unequal results of the will. A couple breaking up because one of them can’t be present in her life as it is now, and keeps hanging on to her adolescence. Two men who share a name, and oddly enough, an obituary. 

The characters cross paths with each other and share their most profound moments, not with the people to whom they are related, but with strangers. They never realize that in each of these encounters, only a few more words would reveal the truth: that they are all deeply connected, their lives knit together as tightly as the yarn in a sweater. They can’t see beyond their individual strands. Until the very last scene of the play, when they are all on stage at once, there’s never the slightest suggestion that they have any sense of the intersections between their lives. They keep missing each other at every turn. But in that one final moment before the lights go down, without a word said about it, you get the idea that now, they finally know. They finally understand that they are not merely strands of yarn; they are a sweater.

This may come as a surprise given that I’m a minister and all, but I don’t spend much time thinking about heaven or the afterlife. I believe in a continuation of life after this one, in a sense that I don’t entirely understand, but I’m not someone who dwells on imagining a future I can’t predict. My faith tends to be of the pragmatic variety, always asking what good it does here and now, for me and for the world around me. Getting to heaven has never been the driving factor behind faith, for me. And yet…

That last scene of the play, when all the actors share the stage and you sense that somehow, even if it’s not said, they finally know…

And this scene in Revelation, this vision of John, of all the saints of God together, from every nation and tribe and language, across all times and places, sharing absolute clarity and purpose – well, there’s just something about it that makes even the most pragmatic Christian pause to think of heaven, of what is next, of the moment when we all stop being just individual strands of yarn, and finally understand that we are a sweater.

Today we celebrate All Saints Day, which actually happened during the week, but since we don’t have mid-week services or keep strictly to the liturgical calendar, we’re having it today. It’s a day when we recognize in particular the saints who have passed from our fellowship in the last year: Davis Woods, Katie LePage, Hanna Carp…

We also worship surrounded by our Shower of Saints, by people we knew personally or from afar, by parents, siblings, friends, world-shakers and quiet examples of dedication. We’re surrounded by people who lit the way for us, who loved us, some of whom we still grieve. On this day in particular, we are mindful of all those who went before us, weaving the individual strands of their lives together to enclose us in the warmth of their collective presence.

As part of our worship today, we will also take communion. We often emphasize the connection we have to Christ in communion, or to one another, and those things are both true. But one of the great privileges and mysteries of Christian faith is that the communion table is also where we remain in relationship with those who have died. The communion of saints transcends time and space, and those names and faces around us and the ones we carry in our minds are not merely here as distant memories. Those we love who have died are alive in Christ. And as separate as we may feel now, one day we will share the stage with them once again.

And the people of God from every time and place, who feel so disconnected from us by culture and geography and time, will all be part of the scene as well. A great multitude will be gathered together that no one can count, from every nation, and from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. And we will hunger no more, and thirst no more, and the sun will not strike us, nor scorching heat; for the Lamb will be our shepherd, and will guide us to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe every tear from our eyes. And finally, it will be clear that we are not in fact separate strands at all, that we have been knit together all along – that we are a sweater.

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