Since We Assembled Last

Revelation 7:9-17 + Grace UMC + Dr Frank Drenner + 04 October 2020

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,

‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom

and thanksgiving and honour

and power and might

be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God,

   and worship him day and night within his temple,

   and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;

   the sun will not strike them,

   nor any scorching heat;

for the Lamb at the centre 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.’

Every year in every annual conference of the United Methodist Church, the clergy in their business session sing together a hymn of Charles Wesley. It’s been done this way since the days of John and Charles. It is a sort of check in, renewing our covenantal relationship for another year. This year, of course, we sang together virtually.

1. And are we yet alive,

and see each other's face?

Glory and thanks to Jesus give

for his almighty grace!

Today I am particularly mindful of verse 3, as we are gathered in the Celebration Center for the first time in seven months: 

3. What troubles have we seen,

what mighty conflicts past,

fightings without, and fears within,

since we assembled last!

What troubles have we seen since we assembled last? More than 200,000 Americans dead from Covid19. More than a million dead worldwide. A disproportionate impact on men and women of color. The economy is in  recession. Millions lost jobs. Millions of children must learn from home. Millions of teachers carry additional workload and risk. Seven months in, and things seem to be getting worse instead of better.

When we last checked in on John the Apostle, he witnessed a heavenly scene of worship- countless people and animals singing their praises to the One on the throne and the Lamb who was sacrificed. In Chapter six of Revelation, everything goes bad. Seals are opened by the Lamb, unleashing the infamous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on the earth:

  • A rider on a white horse, wearing a crown and claiming victory- a reference to Christ

  • A rider on a red horse, unleashing war

  • A rider on a black horse, unleashing disease and famine

  • Death on a pale green horse, claiming the lives of 25% of the world’s population

  • Other seals bring destruction and natural disasters.

What troubles have you seen? What injustices have others suffered?

Chapters 8-18 continue the violence and chaos, with war even breaking out in heaven. Good vs evil, health vs sickness, violence vs peace, terror vs faith. In the midst of all this chaos, John again has a vision of heavenly worship. The difference between Chapter 7 and Chapters 4&5 is the worshipers are not anonymous now. John hears 144,000 (12 x 12,000- multiplication of a biblical number) Israelites, a remnant of the original covenant people of God, worship the Lord on the throne. John sees an even greater number, an infinite number, of people worship the Lamb who was slain. 

“Who are these people?” John asks, bewildered by the sight. 

“These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” the angel responds. These are the faithful who suffered persecution, even death, for remaining faithful to Jesus. These are the ones dismissed as losers or foolish victims by the Empire, who refused to bow to Caesar. They suffered the hunger, thirst and scorching heat of this world. They shed tears for Christ. But they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, and been transformed. They are the ones we remember in our Great Thanksgiving liturgy:

“And so, with your people on earth and all the company of heaven

we praise your name and join their unending hymn:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

John the Apostle sees and hears their continued witness- remember the Greek word martyr literally means witness. In the midst of the frightening reign of the Four Horsemen, the singing and sight of the heavenly chorus stands out. Death, fear, disease, doubt, and destruction do not have the last word for these saints.

Charles Wesley’s And Are We Yet Alive ends with these verses:

4. Yet out of all the Lord

hath brought us by his love;

and still he doth his help afford,

and hides our life above.

5. Then let us make our boast

of his redeeming power,

which saves us to the uttermost,

till we can sin no more.

6. Let us take up the cross

till we the crown obtain,

and gladly reckon all things loss

so we may Jesus gain.

We have endured many hardships since we last saw each other face to face. Warfare, pestilence, violence, fear, doubt. One day, these concerns will be no more. There will be no more hunger or thirst or scorching of the sun. Jesus will bring us and all who suffer to the springs of living water, and God will wipe away our tears. We will wrap ourselves in the promised white robes of freedom, justice, healing, liberation and resurrection. May we live our lives in such a way that those on the outside peeking in see and hear us as living acts of praise, joining in the singing. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the One who is coming!