The Revelation of John gets short shrift in many Episcopal circles. It shows up on nine different Sundays in the three year lectionary cycle, an average of three times a year, but I can probably count on none fingers the number of times I’ve heard Revelation preached on a Sunday. If I’ve heard it, it was probably in the context of the Burial Office wherein the latter half of Sunday’s lesson (in the BCP lectionary) is one of the six recommended New Testament lessons. I say all this not to condemn my fellow preachers, but to convict myself as well, since over the last decade, I’ve been preaching roughly 50% of the Sundays every year.
I wonder why we are so Revelation averse? It probably has something to do with the wider Christian culture’s seeming obsession with it. Episcopalians tend to shy away from stuff that makes us seem “like them,” to our detriment. Even more likely is the reality that we just don’t have much training in the topic. Seminary electives on apocalyptic literature, while available, are probably taught every three years, and are certainly scarcely registered for. With such vivid imagery, most of which must be taken metaphorically, it seems downright dangerous to tackle Revelation not having done your homework. So, rather than take the time to dig in, we opt for safer texts like Ecclesiasticus, 1 John, or Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes.
If ever there was a safe Sunday on which a preacher might tackle some of the broader themes in Revelation, All Saints’ Sunday might be it. We are already dabbling in that place where we can’t speak from any real knowledge. Though we say, every Sunday (I hope), that we believe in the resurrection of the dead, it is hard to really grasp what that means. So, when faced with a lesson in which John is given a glimpse of the heavenly city, with the great multitude that no one could count gathered around the throne, maybe we take shot at it, confessing that no one really knows what it means to be a part of the Church Triumphant, and yet giving thanks for the millions of Christians who have paved the way for us to one day take our place in that heavenly chorus that shouts “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
For me, the image of the Great Multitude is a comforting one, as I ponder not only those great heroes of the faith who are included, but the countless number of faithful disciples whose faith has impacted my own, without either of us knowing it. I think of the arthritic hands I’ve seen knitting prayer shawls, the careful reverence of a pall being placed upon a casket, the hours priests have spent in their studies crafting sermons, and the hundreds of breakfast casseroles I’ve consumed over the years. I think of faithful volunteers in elementary schools, food pantries, Sunday liturgies, and backpack blessings. I think of all those folks who work tirelessly behind the scenes to build the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, I give thanks for their dedication, and I look forward to that day when I don my white rob and take my place before the throne to join the chorus, making a joyful noise for the Lord of our salvation.