“After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could number, from every nation, race, people and tongue.They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”(Revelation 7:9)In the name …
As we’re speaking, the very first broadcast of our Sunday morning Mass is airing on Channel 12 here in our local four towns.This past Tuesday I went down to the television studio to edit that tape of last Sunday’s Mass.In the process of editing, you have to see the tape, and you learn quite quickly that the camera captures everything.You fidget at the altar – the camera remembers.You say the wrong words in the middle of the Mass – the camera remembers.Sing an occasional note a little bit off key – the camera remembers.Even notice the hairline is receding a bit more than you thought – and the camera remembers
Today the church observes All Saints Day, and it helps to remind us that God watches and remembers too.We celebrate the victory of all those who have lived before us and who now share eternal life with God in heaven.The saints are not limited to the exceptional people of faith whose statues decorate our churches.Instead, in the words we read earlier from the book of Revelation, the saints are part of that “great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue.” The saints are the ordinary believers who lived life as if God were watching.In Revelation, these words are offered as a promise and an encouragement for the ones who face “the time of great distress.”Amid all of the difficulties of leading a decent life, not to mention a saintly life, the promise of joining that heavenly multitude is intended to give us strength so that we can continue to struggle here and now to live as God would have us live.
This is why in the earliest church the definition of the saints was completely different than it is today.Acts of the Apostles, Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colos-sians, Philemon and Hebrews all speak of the saints as the people of the church, as the people of faith.Death is not a part of that definition.Saints are defined not by life or death, but by belief.Therefore, the saints labour here on earth, and are then rewarded in heaven. That was the early church’s definition of the saints, and I think it’s a healthy one because it returns our thoughts to the ideas of promise and encouragement.It reminds us that God is watching, but not for our mistakes, but for our efforts.
The camera remembers and so does God, but God isn’t looking for the mistakes.When I watched the video, my mistakes remained with me.They’re what I noticed the most. I don’t know why I do that, or why we tend to remember the mistakes rather than the accomplishments.Friday Sharon and I went to SmithCollege to hear Menachem Pressler.He’s nearly 85 years old and he’s been playing the piano professionally for about 60 years.He played almost a full two hours of beautiful music.During the concert, the young lady who was turning the pages of his music got a little bit ahead of him, his hand left the keyboard and pushed her hand aside.You could see people in the audience look at each other and smile.It was hard not to notice the mistake, but what I’m wondering is in a year from now, will I remember the beautiful sonatas he played or will I remember that one, isolated mistake.Why do we concentrate on the mistakes?
But thank God, God is different.God is not like us.He knows our limitations and can look past them rather than concentrate on them.This is why we cannot let the talk of the saints in heaven degenerate into the question of what happens to the others.Words of hope cannot be turned into a message of fear.The last words we read in today’s Lesson are that the saints “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”It is through Jesus that we can trust in the promise of salvation.Now whether you have a developed or rudimentary perception of who Jesus is, think to yourselves which image more closely fits with what we know of Him.I’ve seen at several funerals a prayer card that shows Jesus embracing an anonymous person among the clouds of heaven.The person has just died and Jesus wraps him in His arms to comfort him.That’s one image.Another can be taken from some of the movies that always come out around Halloween.Kids have done a wonderful thing with Halloween.They’ve taken old superstitions and have let us see them as costumes, as unreal, as silly.But Hollywood has taken Halloween in the opposite direction.Every abnormality and violent perversion that can be imagined comes out on television and at the movies at this time of the year.And if it can be imagined, it can become one of hell’s torments.Hell is filled with all sorts of tortures and grotesque creatures.And if hell is real, then Christ allows it.For an eternity souls will be tortured in horrid fashion, and if hell is real, then Christ allows it.This is the second image.God has revealed Himself completely in Jesus.Which of these two images, Jesus’ embrace or Jesus allowing for hell’s torture to exist, is consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus?
We despise the terrorists and criminals for the savage acts they perform, but these are performed for a time.Hell insists that such abominations continue unabated forever.How can we credit such a thing, even passively, to our God?I believe it was the great Christian theologian Paul Tillich who said that if Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus to His death, were in the pits of hell, then Jesus would be there ministering to him.We cannot allow the promise, hope and strength of All Saints to degenerate into talk of what else there may be.The church teaches that God rewards the good and punishes the evil, but that is not the gateway to thoughts of eternal damnation that are then applied to the same Jesus who never struck another person in anger, never cursed another person, and in His last words even forgave the men who tortured Him to death on the cross.
So therefore, the Feast of All Saints is not limited to the idea of the dead, and it most definitely is not a springboard into talk of the damned.Instead, All Saints is a celebration of the faith-filled lives of believers.This is why the church always has us read the Beatitudes on this Feast Day, the eight definitions of the blessed in the eyes of Christ.It is not only to describe how the saints in heaven once lived on earth; it is to remind us here and now how we are to live as the saints of the earthly church.After Mass this morning, if you like, out by the church elevator there are some lilies that are growing.I planted them there after Easter this year.The soil is pretty poor and the plants didn’t really start to grow until late in the summer and now as winter is approaching one of the plants is ready to bloom, but it waited too long.God is watching.Let’s not wait too long before we realize that the saints are not only the ones in statues, but that they are supposed to be us.Let us strive to live accordingly now.We will make mistakes and God will see them, but God knows how to edit, and hopefully we will give Him enough good material to work with as one of His saints on earth.For this we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.(+)