Behold a Host

Text: Revelation 7:9-17
Date: All Saints’ Day (Observed) + 11/3/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. And “who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory!” (Ps 24:10) now seated in His throne of light. And who are these with Him, and from where have they come?

Behold a host, arrayed in white….
These are the saints of glorious fame,
Who from the great affliction came
And in the flood
Of Jesus’ blood
Are cleansed from guilt and shame. (LSB 676)

In the liturgical calendar of our hymnal we celebrate twenty-five Biblical saints, 11 major festivals, most of them celebrating important aspects of the life of the Lord Jesus, for a total of 35 Feasts and Festivals. In addition we have commemorations of certain saints throughout history, 100 in all including certain important events like the Council of Nicaea and the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. That’s a total of 135 occasions for prayer and worship in addition to the 52 Sundays of the year.

In the very earliest of days in the Christian Church, just like today, those who have died in the faith of the Lord were remembered every year not as much on their earthly birthday but on their heavenly birthday, the day of their death. You can imagine how quickly the calendar began not only to fill up but to have multiple commemorations every day of the year. This was in part the reason for the development of one day on which all the saints, the faithful departed were remembered, those of local memory, those of Biblical memory and even those unknown to us of whom we will sing in our final hymn today, “the unsung saints, that countless, nameless throng” (LSB 678).

It is good for us to remember the saints, Christians known, little known and unknown, as we say in our Augsburg Confession, “Our churches teach that the remembrance of the saints is to be commended in order that we may imitate their faith and good works according to our calling” (AC 21). In the Apology of the Augsburg Confessions we give three reasons we remember the saints. First, we thank God for giving faithful servants to His Church. Second, through such remembrance our faith is strengthened as we see the mercy that God extended to His saints of old. Third, these saints are examples by which we may imitate both their faith and their holy living according to our calling in life.

We can say much of individual saints like Adam and Eve, King David, St. Paul and St. John, Martin Luther, C. F. W. Walther, and even our own Christian mother, father, or other departed relative. But what can we say in a short time of all of them together, All Saints?

St. John was given a comforting vision in which he saw all of them, “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, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” This was an inspiring and comforting vision especially because of the horrifying scenes that went before in the first six chapters of Revelation depicting the terrifying suffering of the Church on earth, throughout the history of the world, the Church Militant.

Just before our text, in the first eight verses of Revelation chapter 7, John is shown one final picture of the Church Militant, the suffering Church throughout the history of the world. But here what does he see? He sees the whole church of God’s people on earth in perfect order ready to march, ready to carry out their mission. But before entering into their spiritual battle he sees them “sealed.” This sealing means that no matter how much we will suffer on earth, God protects us in our faith. It would not be wrong to think of our Holy Baptism as God’s sealing of His saints. Now in our text we see the second scene, the Church Triumphant coming out of the great tribulation and suffering.

So it is with each of us. There is suffering to be endured in this life, in this world. It is both because of the normal, universal suffering resulting only from our common sinful, dying condition, and it is also and especially the suffering for the sake of faith in Jesus Christ the Savior of the world. This vision tells us that, regardless of our present fears, we will endure, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, saying, “[God] delivered us from deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Cor 1:10). And we can have the same confidence of the apostle who wrote to Timothy, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim 4:16-18).

We are today assured that we will endure because we have seen the vision of the ultimate outcome of our faith written down here by St. John. Behold, a host! In the end the church militant becomes the church triumphant. This vision assures us of the eternal rest and peace that awaits us. Of such confidence the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

The white robes symbolize the purity and righteousness of Jesus Christ, which purity and righteousness have been given to us by faith because of his blood; His blood shed on the cross, His blood received constantly in the Sacrament.

The palm branches symbolize the celebration of victory even as the crowds waved them and shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” By the cross and resurrection of Jesus this is the feast of victory for our God, alleluia, alleluia!

So John hears the Church triumphant singing the hymn of praise. What is our hymn of praise? The greatest hymn of praise is the one that attributes our salvation to the work and gift of God alone and to His Christ. So we join our voices today as in the great Te Deum: “We praise You, O God; we acknowledge You to be the Lord.” With angels, the heavens and all the powers therein we join our praise also with “the glorious company of the apostles,” “the goodly fellowship of the prophets,” “the noble army of martyrs,” and [as we always confess on the heading of our ordo or service folder each Sunday] “the holy Church throughout all the world.”

That praise is sung to “the Father of an infinite majesty,” His “adorable, true, and only Son; also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.” But when it comes to how God has saved us, we praise “the king of glory…Christ,” “the everlasting son of the Father.”

In this song we proclaim the salvation Christ came to bring. We sing the creed to Him, “When you took upon Yourself to deliver man, You humbled Yourself to be born of a virgin. When You had overcome the sharpness of death, You opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. You sit at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father. We believe that You will come to be our judge. We therefore pray You to help Your servants, whom You have redeemed with Your precious blood. Make them to be numbered with Your saints in glory everlasting” (Te Deum).

As we celebrate All Saints today, know that that includes YOU as St. Peter wrote of your salvation: “In this YOU rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, YOU have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of YOUR faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” “And after YOU have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called YOU to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish YOU. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 1:6-7; 5:10-11).