At Last the March Shall End

Text: Revelation 7
Date: All Saints’ Day + 11/1/15

With the arrival of All Saints’ Day we approach the closing chapters of the church year, of our annual task and mission of proclaiming the whole Gospel of salvation and eternal life from beginning to end. It began with the call to be ready in repentance. It ends with the promised blessed hope of heaven. It centers in Jesus Christ. It’s all about Jesus. The Creed outlines everything from the creation to the one sacrifice that opens the door of heaven, to our entrance into the kingdom, born anew through the womb of the baptismal font, filled with faith by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, kept safe all our days in the ark of the holy Christian Church. Today we are given a vision of it all. All people who are being saved together with those who have gone before us with the sign of faith are transformed from sinners into saints, the unholy become the holy ones, holy, that is set apart from the world of sin and death, set apart for the eternal life God originally intended for all people.

Today we celebrate All Saints, all of them. They are “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” That would mean to include also those who have not yet even been born! Yet also, on this day, we do remember those individuals whose names we know who have gone before us, as we might say, “my sainted father,” mother, wife, husband, son, daughter, friend, colleague, teacher, pastor. These all have names and still live in the memory of our mind’s eye. As we give thanks to God for their deliverance today and comfort one another in St. Paul’s words that “they are with the Lord,” name them today in your hearts. Then let us be faithful to our own death that we may inherit the crown of life (Rev 2:10).

Our first reading is a vision given to St. John of the Church Triumphant. But before this in chapter 7, is the picture of us now, the Church Militant, still feebly struggling while they in glory shine. Here we are marked and sealed by the Lord, His name placed on our foreheads as those chosen and predestined, called and justified on our way also to be glorified (Rom 8:29-30).

We stand in ordered ranks, 12,000 times 12, 144,000 being the symbolic number for the complete number of the saved, of all the saints. Today we are still among them, saint and sinner at the same time, ordered for mission, to fight the good fight of the faith, to make disciples of all nations. But now the great goal and hope is described for us of standing before the Lamb, our risen, ascended, glorified Lord Jesus. The white robes we wear and palm branches we bear proclaim the sinless holiness that has been declared over us by God for the sake of faith in Christ and the victory of heaven.

We are to sing with a loud voice this song: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” That is, though salvation is our possession, it originated and is offered to all solely as a gift from the heart of God. In other words,

Not unto us be glory, Lord;
Not unto us but to Your name be praise;
Not unto us but to Your name all honor be given
For matchless mercy, forgiveness, and grace. (LSB 558:1)

We are to know that the holy angels sing, too. We join with their Christmas song even now in the liturgy of the divine service, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.” We also join in their eternal Sanctus, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth,” or power and might, “heaven and earth are full of Your glory.” And now we hear another seven-fold angelic song, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” We are so blest that, even though we do not hear them with our ears, we actually join our voices with them, “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” which would also include all the saints including those you know and are even now naming in your hearts.

These heavenly songs have been captured in the canticle Te Deum laudamus:

We praise You, O God; we acknowledge You to be the Lord.
All the earth now worships You, the Father everlasting.
To You all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers
To You cherubim and seraphim continually do cry:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth;
heaven and earth are full of the majesty of Your glory.
The glorious company of the apostles praise You.
The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise You.
The noble army of martyrs praise You.
The holy Church throughout all the world does acknowledge
The Father of an infinite majesty;
Your adorable, true, and only Son;
also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. (LSB p. 223)

We will sing the versified hymn version of this as we prepare for the sacrament today.

When at last our march shall end we will be welcomed and known as those coming out of the great tribulation. This includes all the suffering, our warring against our own sin that so easily besets us, as well as suffering because of the sin of others around us, especially as “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” reviled, persecuted falsely on Jesus’ account (Mt 5:10-11). Our faith and salvation is nothing less than a miracle as the dirty robes of our sinful nature have been washed by God white in the red blood of the Lamb, our crucified and risen Lord.

Then what? Then we praise God endlessly and Psalm 23 comes true. “For 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.” How many tears have you shed? For now it’s okay to cry, to shed tears; whether tears of sorrow and grief or pain or tears of joy at blessings received while still in this valley of the shadow, for God will finally wipe away every tear.

For All the Saints…Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Now add your own name. For our Lord has promised you, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name,” your name, “before my Father and before his angels” (Rev 3:5).

Still lift your standard high,
Still march in firm array,
As pilgrims through the darkness wend
Till dawns the golden day.

At last the march shall end;
The wearied ones shall rest;
The pilgrims find their home at last,
Jerusalem the blest. Rejoice, give thanks and sing! (LSB 813)