Sermon: “Victory Celebration”
Lectionary Series C; All Saints’ Sunday
Sunday, November 3, 2019 – Proper 27
First Reading: Revelation 7:9-17
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Washington Nationals just won the World Series of Major League Baseball. As the ninth inning of game seven came to a close, players and coaches from the Nationals jumped up and down like little boys in a school yard. The celebration continued in a plastic lined locker room as those same players and coaches put on goggles and sprayed champagne everywhere. Then yesterday, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Washington D.C. as the victory parade and speeches ensued. What a party! What a victory celebration!
Everyone loves a good victory celebration. Everyone loves to be able to just let loose and rejoice in winning. We all love winning, am I right? Whether it’s a World Series win, a Super Bowl win, or just a good ole win at a game of Sheephead. We all love winning, and we love to celebrate the victory afterwards.
The image we have in our text for today is a victory celebration. The saints have come out of the great tribulation, and now it is time to party. No more hunger, no more thirst, no more scorching heat, no more tears. Now all that remains is victory. Victory in Jesus!
Just imagine all those who are going to be there. Adam and Eve. Noah. Father Abraham…who had many sons. Isaac. Jacob. Moses. Ruth. Esther. Elijah. Joseph and Mary. Peter, James, and John. The apostle Paul. And countless others from all tribes and nations from every generation. Literally, countless, the text says.
Everyone will be wearing white robes given to them by none other than Jesus Himself who washed them in His own precious blood. Everyone will be waving palm branches in their hands celebrating the victory. Everyone will be shouting: Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!
This is the image of victory that we get to look forward to as we celebrate All Saints Sunday today. As we give thanks for the victory given in Jesus afforded to our loved ones who have died in the faith, we set our sights on our own future glory. We fix our eyes with the saints on the author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Where are your eyes fixed? Are the set on Christ? Are they fixed on future glory? When John wrote these letters to the seven churches which we know as the book of Revelation, he was writing them to a persecuted church. He was writing them to a people that were daily being tested and tried for their faith. People were being imprisoned, wounded, and even killed. It was hardly a time for a victory celebration.
John invites those who read his letters to rejoice even now that this image of victory is a guarantee. Perhaps some of you remember back in Super Bowl III, three days before the game was to begin, Joe Namath, the quarterback for the New York Jets guaranteed a victory over the favored Baltimore Colts. When the game took place, Namath and his underdog Jets delivered on his guarantee securing the victory by a margin of 16 to 7.
Though Namath came through, most of us would agree that guarantees are hard to come by that live up to what they claim. We have guarantees that come with purchasing a vehicle. We have guarantees given to us by family members. We have guarantees that come with a new job. How many times have we had the guarantees in life wind up letting us down, because quite frankly, people let us down?
We hear of an image of victory like we do in our text for today, and it is difficult for us to believe that it will come to fruition. We want evidence. We want proof. Our lack of trust in the Almighty God coming through for us is why we live the way we do as we approach the Last Day.
All too often we live in fear, not as those who have a guaranteed victory celebration awaiting us. We look at life through the lens of our current suffering rather than the glory that awaits us. We look at the hunger, the thirst, the scorching heat, and the tears, and we fail to recognize that John tells us that all this will be no more.
By our own reason or strength we fail to comprehend just how grand things will be when Christ does return. How often do we think that if we can’t understand something then it must not be true?
This is why John describes the victory celebration as He does. He doesn’t tell us as much of what will be there as much as what won’t be there. There won’t be hunger or thirst or scorching heat or tears. In the 21st chapter he tells his readers: He (God) will wipe away ever tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).
By the process of negation, John gives us a beautiful image of the future glory that awaits us in the resurrection. He tells us that God will eliminate all the realities of living in a sin-filled world. He paints a picture of pure joy and bliss as all the pain and suffering of this world will be no more.
Each time we gather for a funeral and the committal, this is what we have to proclaim thanks to Jesus for: Death does not get the final say. Jesus, who said that it was finished, gets the final say. He destroyed death by His death on the cross, and His victory over the grave is what gives us hope. Thanks to Jesus, we have hope even while living in this world of suffering and pain, even while living in this valley of the shadow of death.
Hope is a word that gets used so loosely today. Hope is a word that so often fails to offer any guarantees. Hope is so often misplaced. But Scripture tells us: Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:24-25).
And that’s where our problem arises. We fail to trust in God to come through for us because we lack patience. We want the suffering to end now. We want the pain to end now. We want the sin and death to be done for.
Thanks be to God, He guaranteed just that. All the way back in the Garden of Gethsemane, God promised that the offspring of Eve would crush the head of the serpent. We look back and see that this promise is now our sure and certain hope. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into this world to be our hope. He came into this world to shed His own precious blood with His innocent suffering and death, to forgive us for our lack of fearing, loving, and trusting in Him above all things, and crush the serpent Satan once and for all.
Whenever we fail to trust that victory celebration is ours, all we need to do is look back to the cross and the empty tomb and see that what He promised is an accomplished fact. It is finished. It is done.
The saints who have gone before us are already getting the party started for us. And we are invited to join them even now. Each and every Sunday, when we are invited to the table of the Lord, we feast on the foretaste to come. We feast upon Christ, the same feast the saints enjoy in heaven.
I have often told people that if I could redesign our church, I would have the altar pulled out from the wall and the communion rail be in the form of a half circle. There in the middle would be the body and blood of Christ. We would join in dining together, but recognizing that the other half circle is completed in heaven by all the saints who have gone before us.
Our liturgy clearly states this beautiful truth in the preface to communion before the Sanctus is sung: “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God. In the communion of all Your saints gathered into the one body of Your Son, You have surrounded us with so great a cloud of witnesses that we, encouraged by their faith and strengthened by their fellowship, may run with perseverance the race that is set before us and, together with them, receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying: (8am) Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of pow’r and might; (10:30am) Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.”
What a victory celebration we have been given to participate in even here now, even here today. And it will only get better when Christ does fulfill His promise to return, when the separation will be ended, sin and death done for, forever. We will all be joined together. We will all be clothed in white robes, and wave palm branches in our hands. We will all give out a shout: Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” Let the victory celebration begin! In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.