A blessed All Saints Day to you!
In chapter 7 of the book of Revelation, John catches a glimpses of the church worshiping in heaven. It’s people from every nation, from all tribes, gathered from among all ethnic groups and languages. There they are, arrayed before the throne of God and the Lamb, dressed in pure white robes and bearing victory palm branches. Their lives are summed up in worship, the eternal completion of their orientation toward Christ.
“Who are these?” asks one of the twenty-four elders near the throne. It’s a rhetorical question. John, as us, is just a visitor to the heavenly courtroom. “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They’re before the throne of God. God shelters them. The Lamb is their shepherd, and he leads them to the “springs of living water.”
The image not only assures us that our loved ones who have died in the hope of Christ’s resurrection continue to be alive and well in the presence of God. It’s also a vision that reminds us that the church on earth continues to be united to the church in heaven. Earthly worship joins heavenly song. Our prayers rise as incense to mingle with the prayers of the saints around God’s eternal throne.
All too often, we forget this union of heaven and earth, the church militant and the church triumphant, bound together in the body of Christ that transcends the grave. We’re not necessarily used to thinking like this. We’re not accustomed to remembering the church in heaven. We’re evangelical-something-or-others, after all, and this sounds like a little too much loose talk of “saints” and of prayers offered by those who have died. A wee too Catholic for us, thank you very much.
But here it is, right there in the Scriptures, and in Revelation to boot–that great summative book that draws together the strands of Old Testament prophecy and binds them to Christ who lived, died, rose, ascended, and reigns.
Perhaps on this All Saints Day, it would be good to remember the church in heaven that is joined to us on earth. The church in heaven is not passively asleep, but rather a throng of people worshiping God, continuously offering up prayers that God’s will be accomplished on earth as in heaven. On this All Saints Day, let us remember loved ones who have passed into glory, but also remember that their work of praise and prayer is not over.
As Charles Wesley put it in his famous song, “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing:”
Glory to God and praise and love be ever, ever giv’n
by saints below and saints above
the church in earth and heav’n.