All Saints day chooses a reading from John’s Apocalypse in lieu of a Hebrew Bible reading. The reading selected is both good news and bad news. The good news is that “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Consequently a ‘great multitude’ having washed their robes in the blood of the lamb are envisioned enjoying a leisurely rest by streams of water, without hunger, thirst, or tears. The bad news is that the great multitude is identified as those who have come out of the ‘great ordeal.’ The exact nature of the persecution (the great ordeal) that occasioned the writing of the book of Revelation is not known. What we do know is that persecutions were first local in nature (limited to small geographic areas–towns and cities) and then became more general in scope (and thus much more devastating). Regardless of the extent of suffering it is certain that John’s Apocalypse sees beyond the dire circumstance and points toward a decisive end where God’s reign brings peace and healing.
It is significant to note that the multitude is both described as numbering 144,000 and being innumerable. The juxtaposing of these two opposite identifiers is fully intended. The 144,000 is a Jewish cipher for the ‘people of God’ (12,000 times 12–’12’ being the number of tribes comprising the nation of Israel). The ‘innumerable’ multitude is the result of people being called from every nation (Jew and gentile alike). In this crowd there is both continuity with the past (the Jewish heritage), and a glimpse into the future (the new covenant inclusion of the gentiles).
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
Psalm 34 is an acrostic poem (meaning that the each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew Alphabet). This served many purposes. First, it made for easier memorization of the psalm. Second, the inclusion of every letter in the Hebrew alphabet served symbolically as representing all that could be said about the faithfulness/provision/salvation of God (from A to Z). There are even those that suggest that in the acrostic’s use of every letter in the Hebrew alphabet the source of all words is used in praise to God–and thereby all the potential words that could be said of God are contained within the Psalm (albeit as an alphabet soup).
The psalmist confesses that he/she will praise God ‘at all times’ and then invites those around him/her to do the same. The psalmist recalls being delivered by God. The psalmists asks those around him/her to share in this same deliverance, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” The expression invites others to experience the goodness of God, probably by participating in the Godly life (the obedience of the Law) and thus reaping the fruit of righteousness (a tasteful reward).
1 John 3:1-3
1 John is written to a church that is struggling with heresy. Mirror reading the text we surmise that some in the church were attracted to a certain proto-gnosticism that denigrated the flesh, scoffed at morality (what was done in the flesh did not matter), spiritualized the earthly Christ, and belittled the idea of a bodily resurrection.
John declares that what we are is a sign of what we will be. We are children of God (by God’s grace) and when God reveals God’s self we will be like God (although God is presently a mystery, and therefore we are unsure of God’s exact nature). What we do know is that those who are children of God show earthly signs of God’s heavenly glory. In particular they do right things (2:29) and they purify themselves (3:3). John links what’s done below with the ideal from above, and thus avoids the sharp and false dichotomy of the proto-gnostic teachers who separated the physical from the spiritual, the earthly from the heavenly.
When you are part of the kingdom of God you receive blessings for strange things. The blessings, like the kingdom, are ‘already but not yet.’ Jesus tells us that the ‘poor and spirit are blessed’ because ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven’–a present reality. Jesus switches to the future tense for the rest of the beatitudes(until he reaches those persecuted for righteousness’ sake) and points to an end that will set to rights all the inequities of earth. The kingdom is there, but not all the benefits of the kingdom are fully realized.
Whatever the time of the blessings, the condition that brings it about is always in the present. These people are blessed because they are the things Jesus describes. They are living kingdom lives in the present, even while the kingdom is not yet fully in their midst. They are signs of the kingdom that point to the kingdom by their participation in the kingdom.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for the celebration of our Annual Day of Remembrance in worship to God consider the chorus of lives that have gone before us pointing the way to the kingdom of God. They are the blessed and they are the ones who also await blessing. What we do now does matter! We taste the goodness of God by living kingdom shaped lives in the present. We are children of God by God’s mercy, and therefore we purify ourselves to God’s glory. As Arthur DeKruyter writes, we “are part of an enterprise beyond our grasp or understanding” and we are shown that vision of mystery by the people of faith who have preceded us.