Revelation and Renovation – The Rev. Michelle Meech
November 01, 2020
A sermon preached to the community of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY on All Saints Day, November 1, 2020. If you’d like to read today’s scripture, click here. To listen along, click the play button above.
This past Friday, we began our weekly Bible Study. We met online at 9:00 am with coffee mugs in hand, a bunch of curious people who love God and genuinely want to know more about what our scripture actually says.
We asked some really great questions as we took a look at this week’s readings. Questions like: what does the collect mean by the phrase “mystical body”? And what does Jesus mean when he says, “pure in heart”? And what is the significance of palm branches? And we ended up spending a lot of time with this reading from the Revelation to John. Its imagery is both beautiful and daunting. Its tone, definitely apocalyptic – about the end of time, the end of the world.
Right now, with all that’s happening, the notion of apocalypse is particularly poignant. As we sit on the edge of an election during the most divided time in our nation’s history that I’ve ever known. The pandemic that still has a hold on us the continuing the end of “life-as-we-know-it,” at least temporarily as our holiday celebrations shift and our seasonal traditions altered over the winter. And there’s the winter, signaling the end of the growing season and a return to the earth of those parts of creation that have brought to us so much color, and aroma, and life. This threshold in our yearly cycle where the light lessens and the cold increases can be a very difficult time for people.
I’m glad we spent so much time on this passage from Revelation. To really investigate it and envision, through its words, the dream of hope given to John. Helping us to understand that an apocalypse is not necessarily the disaster we think it is. But it is a great ordeal, as the scripture says, requiring us to change, to give up ourselves in some way and become washed and new. To go through an ordeal in the hope that God’s Reign will take hold once and for all.
As a matter of fact, that’s the phrase that so hooked us as we read: “they have washed their robes and made them white.”… stumbling on the word “white,” as we contemplate racial justice in our society. And we discovered that, the Greek here, and this is one of the books from our scripture that was originally written in Ancient Greek, the word translated here as “white” is “leukos” and it’s meaning is not strictly white, but it really means gleaming or bright.
Immediately, the kid part of me thought, wouldn’t it be great, if for worship, I could wear some kind of iridescent robe that gleams and sparkles in the light, instead of this white one. Alas, I don’t think that would work.
But what an image this passage offers us – “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing [there] in [gleaming, shiny, brightness],” crying out in joy and thanks as they worship God. That, because of their love for God… their brightness, their intensity, could not be contained.
This uncontained, eternal brightness is what we celebrate when we come together for All Saints Day. This celebration, that comes when we are so deeply aware of the passage of time – naming those who have died, acknowledging the turn of the season and the lessening of light… this celebration is about the timelessness of something that cannot be contained – God’s love, God’s Light – that shines through us, that belongs to us, that is our birthright, as God’s Beloved and Holy Creation.
The ways of the world are wearying, even nations shift and change as they come and go over time. But the Love that is God shines for all eternity. Nothing can dull its gleam. Nothing can stifle its luminous beauty. And Love’s sacrifice is how we come to know that personally.
But what is this sacrifice? What is this lamb that is spoken about in the Revelation to John?
As Christians, we know this to be Jesus – the one who gave his own life in the name of love. The one who, over 2 thousand years ago, gave us a path to follow. In taking a stand against the powers that be, he shook up the status quo by reminding the religious leadership that the point that the prophets were trying to make, the point of the law itself, was simple – Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Sometimes Love requires people to give their lives – the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Malala Yousafzai (who miraculously survived). Ruby Sales, the civil rights justice worker, knows about this sacrifice. For a young seminarian gave his own life for hers when she was just a teenager as he stepped in front of a gun that was pointed at her by a white supremacist. His name was Jonathan Myrick Daniels.
But when Love is not asking us to give to that extreme, to forfeit our lives, what is this sacrifice then? What is this lamb that washes us and makes us gleam and glow with uncontained brightness and vividness?
And Ruby Sales wrote this on Twitter the other day, “It is easier to hate than to love because unlike hate, which is reckless and thoughtless, love requires a disciplined inner life, clear-headed analysis of ourselves and others, as well as the courage to renovate our lives.”
This sacrifice, then, if it is not to give our lives, it is to give up our right to hate, our right to the violence of the world that says in order for me to have what I need, someone else has to suffer. This sacrifice is to give up our right to the false power of intolerance and bullying. This sacrifice is to give up our right to shaming others and denying the rights of others. This sacrifice, the sacrifice that Jesus taught us, is to give up our self-interest and, as Ruby Sales puts it, have the courage to renovate our lives.
To renovate our lives. What if an apocalypse is just that – a renovation of our life? A re-creation. A moving around of the furniture. An effort to live differently in the space of our lives. Reordering our life to follow the path that Jesus left for us.
Because this light, this gleaming brightness, is our birthright. And if it’s not shining Love, then a renovation is called for. Because this light is strong, just waiting there to be uncovered.
Because it can be so easily hidden. Easily hidden by contempt for those who struggle in this world, including ourselves – the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are deemed “meek,” the hungry and the merciful, the peacemakers and the pure in heart.
But to open our hearts to these vulnerable people, to stand with them in the face of power – to lay down our defenses and stand with the more vulnerable parts of ourselves, this is exactly how we uncover our own light. This is the sacrifice that Love requires of us.
This is what the apocalypse in Revelation really is – a time of reckoning with ourselves so that we may come to understand that we are made of this light and, regardless of what the world claims, we belong to God and we are loved simply because we breathe. To lay down our burdens and our contempt, to transform our anger and our hate… is to cease being violent and welcome the light of Christ into our lives.
This is how we love ourselves and this how we carry on the love of those who are gone from our lives. This is how the Communion of all the Saints continues through eternity. And this is how Christ becomes real in this world, how Christ becomes the living God.
And so now, as we do on every All Saints Day, we take the time to renew our Baptismal Vows and consider again how to renovate our life. How to deepen our commitment to Christ and our love of God in order to tend to the Light that is there already shining from our souls.