To Be Thankful Is to Be Blessed

The Rev. Scott Trotter
Sunday After All Saints
Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

At the end of a long, long, long country road that not even the sounds of silence reach, the slowly undulating hills are home to the cemetery where the family has buried their own for generation after generation, after generation. As moss colored stones shaped and polished, more by wind than by artisan hands look on they bury the first of his generation, far too soon. As family and friends gather six Marines stand at attention in dress blue – whites. Tunics of deepest darkest blue as to be black contrast sharply with brilliant bleached white trousers. They are the juxtaposition of this day: the black despair of death over against the white hope of those who have come out of the great ordeal of those who know the hope born of resurrection.

At one funeral or another you have heard the reading from The Revelation to John. You know it’s all encompassing language a great multitude from every nation, all tribes, peoples and languages … You know they are those who have come through the great ordeal. You believe your loved one(s) are among them. You believe, that in time, you too will stand in the midst of the uncountable. But most of all, you have taken comfort from the elder’s words:

“They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Such comfort is renewed on All Saints Day as we remember those we love, but see no more, those whose memory fades, and those whom we never knew. These are words of great comfort and great hope. However, like the Marines in resplendent dress blue – whites there is more here than meets our eyes.

The Old Testament reading for Monday’s Daily Office is from 2nd Esdras:

“I, Ezra, saw on Mount Zion a great multitude that I could not number, and they all were praising the Lord with songs. In their midst was a young man of great stature, taller than any of the others, and on the head of each of them he placed a crown, but he was more exalted than they. And I was held spellbound. Then I asked an angel, ‘Who are these, my lord?’ He answered and said to me, ‘These are they who have put off mortal clothing and have put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God. Now they are being crowned, and receive palms.’ Then I said to the angel, ‘Who is that young man who is placing crowns on them and putting palms in their hands?’ He answered and said to me, ‘He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.’ So I began to praise those who had stood valiantly for the name of the Lord.

2nd Esdras, a book in the apocalyptic tradition, is set in mid-500s BC, during the time of Jewish exile. However, it was written about 100 CE, a reflection or commentary on the destruction of the Temple, in Jerusalem, in 70 CE. So, it is a literary companion to The Revelation to John. One of the interesting parallels is the multitude in both stories receive palms, which, in the day, are symbols of victory. From our Christian perspective the victory is Jesus’ resurrection, the final victory over death, and the 1st step in the coming of the Kingdom of God. The realization that the Kingdom of God is already arriving is also reflected in the reading from 1st John: Beloved, we are God’s children now… So, whatever is going on in the scenes depicted in Revelations and 2nd Esdras isn’t something that happened millennia ago, nor something which will happen at some unknowable time in the future, it is happening right here, right now. 1st John goes on to say, “… what we will be has not yet been revealed, …” so we do not yet know all that there is to know. What we do know is, when Jesus is revealed, when the time comes, we will be like Jesus, we will be resurrected, we will be as God created us to be in the beginning, flesh and blood, eternally living in the loving presence of God.

That Jesus’ resurrection is the final victory is not a surprise. That Jesus’ resurrection is our hope for the future is not a surprise. That this hope is the primary ethic for all Christian behavior, that this hope is a call to ministry, call to action might well be a surprise, especially when you realize “all Christian behavior” means all the behavior, not just church, but personal and business behavior, of those who profess to be Christians. So while the stories from Revelations and 2nd Esdras, and 1st John’s declaration that we are children of God, are gifts of hope, they are equally a calling to active ministry today.

You have heard me say that Clarence Oddbody, the rookie angel in It’s a Wonderful Life has done more to confuse biblical understanding of angles than anything I can think of. I stand by that opinion. However, the life story of George Bailey is an example of the ethic and calling I’m talking about. At every critical moment in George’s life he acts from an ethic which places other above self. Oh yes, he grumbles about it, but it is what he does. As importantly, the story reveals how his behavior evokes similar “other before self” actions by friends and colleagues. Remember when the policeman, and cab driver create a honeymoon get away for George and Mary. Remember the end of tale as George is on verge of ruin because old man Potter takes advantage of Uncle Billy’s mistake, and a-l-l the Savings and Loan customers arrive giving mountains of cash to help the one who has always been there for them. I cannot speak for the author’s intent; nonetheless, it is a revealing exercise so see all this thought the lens of Christian ethic and Christian calling to ministry and action. It will never make biblical canon, but it is still instructive.

At the end of a long, long, long country road; beyond the sounds of silence in the midst of slowly undulating hills our family gathers. All of us can choose dress blue – whites; fully aware of the black darkness death would cast, yet by faith, standing on the bleached white of resurrection hope. All of us can choose to live as George Bailey, always acting from Christian ethic. All of us can be thankful for the gift that makes us children of God. All of us can respond to its call to ministry, its call to action. Thereby, all of us are blessed.