Revelation 7:9-17 (ESV)
A Great Multitude from Every Nation
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
    and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
    the sun shall not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”


            I’m going to be upfront and honest with you … this morning, this Sunday … it isn’t one of my favorites.  Yes, I enjoyed the extra hour of sleep, but besides that … All Saints Day which we are observing this morning is really a bittersweet kind of day for me, especially this year.  You see, traditionally on this particular day throughout the church a list of names is read.  This list contains the names of those who have passed away during the past year.  Over the short eight years of being in ministry, I have found that this day gets harder and harder for me.  It gets harder because there are people who I have stood over their graves at the cemetery who I highly respected.  There are even some who I easily considered to be a friend.  I have stood over them and in the graveside service, I have committed their lifeless body to the earth to await the day of Christ’s return and when their body is resurrected, is brought back to life and restored to perfection. 

            This day is also a particularly hard day for me personally because I know that at a different church just across the mighty Mississippi River, the name of my beloved mother-in-law is being read.  All Saints Day is suppose to be a joyful day as we remember our loved ones who have departed because they are now living it up in the glorious realms of heaven, because they now surround the throne of God, and because they are surrounded by all the other saints who have departed this earthly life and now reside around the throne of God.  And even though knowing that our loved ones are in heaven, that doesn’t necessarily make a day like today any easier.

            So on a day like today … I’m reminded of the very real mortality in which we live.  I’m reminded that because of my sins, because of who I am as a poor, miserable sinful being … I too am going to suffer the earthly consequence of my sin.  Someday my kids, my loved ones, my friends, they will be standing over my grave at the cemetery saying their earthly good-byes.

            At that time and at any time someone loses a loved one … those who remain are surrounded, or at least I pray that they are.  They are surrounded by the other family members.  They are surrounded by friends and co-workers.  They are surrounded and held up by love and support.  Meals, cards, and words of condolences and sympathy come flowing in and as they come flowing in, tears are flowing out.  People come to the visitation, the funeral, the meal and their love and acts of kindness shower down on those who are mourning.  In those days following the loss of a loved one, the one suffering is surrounded.  But eventually … people leave and you find yourself in your house or at their favorite restaurant alone.

            After everyone leaves … there is that stack of cards sitting there on the table.  You sit down with your pad of paper and start opening cards.  You look at the pictures of walkways leading towards the back of the picture, pictures of sunsets, trees, and flowers.  You read through the sentimental messages which tell you that “God will show you the way” or “May your pain be lessened by the hope that your loved one will live on in the memories of those whose lives she touched.”  All the while, you realize again as you read through the last card and write down their name so you can send a thank you … you realize that you are all alone.

            Then comes the day when the house or the apartment or the nursing home room needs to be cleaned out.  Surrounded with the loved one’s personal possessions, people who are good at purging and keeping things neat and orderly all of a sudden turn into packrats and can’t seem to throw anything away.  Surrounded with the memories attached to a particular trinket, doily or piece of furniture, it is hard to get rid of anything.  Eventually everything is packed up and the room is empty.  The emptiness again reminds you of the reality that they are gone and that you … you are all alone.

            But on a morning like this, on this All Saints Sunday, the disciple John paints for you and me a totally different kind of picture.  It’s not a picture of you standing alone over your loved one’s cold gravestone, nor is it a picture of you sobbing on the floor surrounded with their things. John paints a picture of what he is privileged to see and what he sees is the glorious throne room of God.  In the center of this throne room there is a lamb, but not just any ordinary lamb but the Lamb, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. Standing before the throne of God is Jesus.

            But Jesus is not standing before the thrown of God alone.  Instead, Jesus is surrounded.  Jesus is surrounded by all of the angels, the twenty-four elders, and the four living creatures.  All of these angels who are surrounding Jesus, they sing to God.  They sing their praises to God the Father because of the marvelous things He has done through His one and only Son, our Savior.  They sing songs of praise for the forgiveness and eternal life which Jesus won for all who believe in him as their Lord and Savior.

            So we have all of the angels, the twenty-four elders, and the four living creatures surrounding Jesus around the throne singing praises to God.  But then John is asked a very interesting question … “These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?” (Rev. 7:13).  Beyond the inner circle of the angels, the elders, and the living creatures, there is another group of people surrounding the Lamb.  This group, John describes, is so large that no one could possibly count them.  John says that these surrounding the throne and Jesus are from every nation, tribe, people, and language and they too are standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb (Rev. 7:9). 

            These gathered around the throne, they’re not alone!  Instead they are a part of something.  They are a part of something so much larger than themselves.  They are totally surrounded by others who are just like them.  You see, John is told that each and every person before him, they have come out of a great tribulation.  Each and every one of them has suffered something and their faith in God has been tried and tested.  Each and every one of them has a story of a time in their life where they felt utterly and completely alone.  

            Think of that time when you felt utterly and completely alone.  Think of that time when your faith was severely tried and tested.  Each of us, no matter how old or how young we are, whether we are a seasoned veteran of life, just starting a family, in college, high school or grade school … we have all probably been there at some time.  I know I have.  I’ve been there numerous times and honestly, I still have moments where I find myself wandering around in that valley darkness.  I still have moments where I feel as if I am totally alone.

            But the sweet part about this bittersweet day is this … you and I, we are not alone.  The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrew 12:1-2). Jesus came down from that heavenly throne to fight for you, to earn for you your forgiveness and salvation.  He came so that you can endure your great tribulations and come out on the other side.  Come out on the other side washed by his holy and precious blood so that you will stand surrounded.  Surrounded by other believers in Christ just like you.  Surrounded by the glorious realms of the new heavens and the new earth.  Surrounded by the most awesome love and light of God for the rest of eternity.

            This is the picture which John paints this morning.  A picture of being surrounded in the glorious realms of heaven above.  But friends, this picture of John is not some verbal painting.  It is real and you don’t have to wait to be in heaven to be surrounded.  Just look around you.  Look around.  You are surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ.  Brothers and sisters in Christ who share similar experiences and who are here to support you, lift you up, and to be with you.  You are not alone. 

            When you come up to this table … you don’t do it alone.  At this table, you are surrounded.  Surrounded by each other yes … but you are also surrounded with the whole company of heaven.  Your loved ones who died in Christ … they are here.  They are here partaking of the same heavenly meal which you are.  And most importantly … Christ is here.  Your Savior is here in a very real and physical way as He gives himself to you in the very bread and the wine we partake of.

            On this All Saints Day … we remember.  We remember our loved ones and we take comfort.  We take comfort in that because of our Savior’s victory over sin, death, and Satan … our loved ones are living it up in the glorious realms of heaven.  Take comfort in that no matter where you find yourself … you, you are not alone.  You are wrapped up and surrounded in the body of Christ as well as the everlasting and mighty arms of your Lord and Savior who holds you and the saints above together in His love.  Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our loving Lord, now and forever.  Amen.