And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
These words, which we heard earlier, are from the Book of Revelation, the last book of our Holy Scriptures. Now most may think of the Book of Revelation as a doomsday book, with 20 chapters of battles, beasts, the horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Anti-Christ, and the image of the lamb who was slain on the heavenly throne, and blood everywhere. Many have interpreted the Book of Revelation as a literal prophecy about the end of days. By the way, that’s not how I or many scholars view this book, but that’s a topic for another time.
But after 20 chapters of mayhem and calamities and fantastic beasts, there finally is calm. It is like the clouds parting and the sun coming through after a violent storm, it is like a gentle conclusion of an otherwise dramatic symphony where everything is played in forte or fortissimo. ‘And I saw a new heaven and a new earth.’ God is among the people, and, with a startling physicality, wipes away all tears from their eyes. And among the final words of Revelation is God’s promise: See, I am making all things new.
God is the creator and re-creator. Our Holy Scriptures begin with creation in Genesis – and they end with a new creation. Violence doesn’t have the last word. Suffering doesn’t have the last word. Division doesn’t have the last word. Hatred doesn’t have the last word. Death doesn’t have the last word. God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end – and the beginning again.
I don’t know about you, but I need to hear this in the times we live in. I need this glimmer of hope as we live on this planet, God’s very good creation, which may not be able to sustain human life – nor many life forms that are swarming and swimming and creeping around us right now – anymore in a generation or two.
I need a word of comfort as we experience ignorance and hatred that, just recently in this country, led to the murder of Maurice Stallard and Vicky Lee Jones in Louisville, Kentucky, at a supermarket in broad daylight by a white man who previously had attempted to enter a predominantly black church before he gave up and moved on. The case is treated as a potential hate crime; both murder victims were black.
Furthermore, we witness how anti-Semitism is raising its ugly and destructive head in this country and elsewhere. Many tears have been cried over the murders of 11 Jewish worshipers at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, a crime motivated by hate against people who are painted as ‘the other’ and consequently seen as a threat. Apparently, we as a human race are incapable of truly forgoing the old ways, the old ideas, the old prejudices, and are prone to commit the same old sins again and again.
I need to hear the promise that all things are made new in the light of those events and all the ‘news’ that, more often than not, is bad; as we experience suffering and trauma and illness, in our own lives, and all around us, and as we grieve the loss of people who meant – and continue to mean – so much to us.
Hope, faith and love are the only things that keep me from giving up on humanity, from throwing in the towel, from despairing and becoming absolutely cynical. This cannot be it, this mustn’t be it. God has the last word. Life has the last word.
Now it is one thing to find comfort and hope in those beautiful words from the end of the Book of Revelation – it is another to live in the light of the promise of these words. If we hope that God, indeed, has the power to renew all things, if we hope that the God of life has the first and the last word, we cannot just resign and let the world go to hell in a handbasket. No, hope is a verb. It’s what we do.
Contemporary Christian writer Anne Lamott, who lives in Marin County, just north from here, writes about hope: ‘Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that, if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.’
As those who believe in God – as those who are loved and commanded by Christ to love – as those who are forgiven and offered the amazing grace of God – as those who are called the ‘body of Christ’ here and now – as those who are made a new creation in baptism – we don’t give up. We show up. As the light of the world, we brighten the darkness around us. That’s how we hope, that’s how we live our faith.
And that’s how we live as the saints of God here and today.
We may think of All Saints Day solely as the day to commemorate the dead, those, who left this vale of tears behind and now rest in God. But this is just one aspect of All Saints. Yes, we are to remember the saints who have gone before us, the saints who left their mark here on earth, the saints who influenced our lives and were models of faith, for their lives are intricately woven into ours.
But this is also a day to remember that we are the saints of God during these times and in this place. And that doesn’t mean we lead extra special holy lives or are capable of doing miracles, no, we are saints by default through our baptism, made holy and set aside by God for the service of loving God and neighbor.
This is a day to remember that we are surrounded by the living saints who may have a different skin tone, speak a different language, are going through experiences we cannot even imagine, love differently, believe in a different way – children of God, created in God’s image, beloved and chosen and forgiven. This is a day to remember that we are saints, together.
This is a day to remember that we are connected to those who came before us, to those who are with us today, and to those who will be once we have left this realm behind. This is a time to remember that it is up to us for this moment to carry God’s torch that we took from our ancestors, to let God’s light, our light, so shine, and to pass it on to the next generations.
This day is a reminder that, just as those who came before us and stubbornly showed up, we are called to do just that today: show up. Stubbornly hang on to what is good and just, call out all evil and injustice, stand with those who suffer, and try to do our best. And, by the way, for those of you who have the privilege of voting, that means to go to the polls this coming Tuesday and cast your vote with the good of your neighbor in mind.
This day is a reminder for us that God, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end and the new beginning, indeed is making all things new already here and now, and is calling us to actively participate in this new thing.
This is a day to remember that God’s vision for all generations and all creation is a kingdom of peace and understanding and justice and abundance for all, I repeat, for all.
This is a day to remember that God is behind everyone and everything, intent on saving all God created.
And so, in closing, let us pray with words we heard from the prophet Isaiah earlier:
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.