“When COVID is Over”
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
All Saints Sunday, November 2, 2020 Revelation 7:9-17
A phrase I keep hearing and saying these days is “When COVID is over . . .” It’s like our lives are on hold until a vaccine comes along and rescues us from wearing masks, staying 10 feet away from each other, and gathering together safely as we once did. We are fatigued at this point and all we can do is look ahead to a better day. On this All Saints Day, what we have heard in our scripture readings are words that shift our thoughts beyond the difficulty of this world to hope in a better place and time. Such hope helps us as we think of our loved ones who have passed on from this world and as we look for hope for ourselves as we try to make it through this world.
The recipients of John’s words of Revelation were people much in need of hope for a better day. He knew about their struggles in life as he was in a place in life where he was confronted with despair on a daily basis as he lived in exile away from his home, family, and friends. He writes to encourage other believers who are suffering persecution and oppression from the Roman empire for following Jesus. His words to them are powerful and apocalyptic, intended to give them hope and comfort in the fact that they were going in the right direction and would one day be in a much better place, one those who have gone on before them had already entered. This place was heaven, where God was enthroned, and where people from all nations and kinds had arrived after struggling through life. Their clothes were no longer bloody from oppression but were now radiantly white and new. This diverse group of people carried palm branches as they were being led and cared for by the Jesus the lamb. Angels were there too, combining their voices with the people in a never-ending praise to God. What an inspiring vision of heaven for John and to the people who would read his words.
I can’t help but think of how much we need to catch this vision of a better place for us now, right here in this place we are in as a people today. We would do well to set our minds on it, just as John did as he looked ahead from his captivity and suffering. There are several aspects of his vision that can encourage us today in our miseries but also as we consider the people who have gone on ahead of us.
First, the better place ahead is one of wholeness. It is, in other words, a place of salvation, for it’s where God is and where God cares for everyone in a way that shelters, feeds, heals, and redeems. In case you have trouble imagining what that’s like, consider the words here describing one of God’s activities, “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” In heaven, God isn’t just sitting back and receiving worship; God is busy serving the saints. God is on a mission to make people who arrive in heaven whole. Isn’t it great to know that our loved ones who have passed from this world are now receiving God’s care like that? That they are now totally fulfilled and whole, saved from every bit of fear and suffering? And it will be that for you one day, too. Yes, there’s sometimes a difficult road to travel here, but your road leads to somewhere better.
Second, the better place ahead is one of diversity and inclusion. For those in our world who envision a world of white supremacy, they will be in for a real disappointment to learn that heaven is where all of God’s people live together in perfect harmony, which is how it was to be in this world all along. If you think you are better than everyone else or deserve special treatment, you will have plenty of time to see how wrong you were. You will see that while in this world you were not really living, in the sense that Martin Luther King, Jr. meant when he said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” But for those who have risen above themselves and have found God to be for all people, just imagine the extreme delight there is in existing with all of God’s children in a way where we are all united by the blessing of each other’s differences. That’s what our loved ones are experiencing now in heaven and it’s what we get to do when we join them one day. Everyone’s loved and included in the eternal party of God.
Third, the better place ahead is one of pure joy. Just as the people John was writing were living in an unhappy experience, they could know of joy. Joy could be theirs even in their suffering as they could know it was to be experienced in full one day. Like the bloody robe they left behind, so their sorrows were no more. They were now dressed in joy. Think of how that has also happened for the people we have remembered here today. Whatever their struggles, pain, and tribulations in this world, they now know only joy. And the same will be true with us here today. One day, we too will know only joy. And we will express our joy with the rest of heaven just as we have heard in John’s description, “in a loud voice, singing with each other and the angels, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’”
Until then, we keep trekking through this world knowing there will be a better day, a better time, and a better place. Amen.