Today is All Saint’s Day. It is a day that commemorates those who have died before us. A day that honors and celebrates Saints, both known and unknown. Today we read the names of those who have died before us. I imagine we all remember someone - whether they died this year or long before this year. I always remember my grandparents - particularly my grandmother who died in 2017. There is something sacred and sobering and honoring in remembering.
I have been reading a book by Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness, and in this book she speaks of and uses the phrase “inextricable connection” to speak of how we are all connected. She uses examples of death, loss and grief as great equalizers in our world- how these are shared experiences that we can all relate to and feel connected over.
Death is something we have all had some experience with, some of us more than others, but also one that we will at some point have some experience with personally.
All Saints Day is one of those days that pushes us to think about death. We are honoring those who have died before us.
Death is not something that is readily talked about in our society. And for many of us, this year in particularly, we experienced death in a new way. I know that I did. We had those in the hospital who died of Covid without their loved ones present and at their side. It was a different experience for me to be present with those who were dying with no loved one present. It has been a heart-wrenching experience for families to have loved ones die with whom they were not able to be present. It was not natural. To speak to families, wives, mothers, over the phone and share with them about their loved one deaths. To hold up a pictured Zoom call with their loved one -either before or even more strangely- after death was not in the natural order of things. It shook me to my core, and I realized I truly was the hand of God in those moments. Death causes us to reflect more fully on life.
Death is difficult. It is a separation.
In Old Testament times people believed that when their loved ones died they went down to Sheol, the place of the dead, which was literally “down there” somewhere. It wasn’t Hell—not a place of punishment for the wicked—it was just the place people went after they died, a kind of huge underground warehouse.
But sometime in the second century BC people began to talk about resurrection from the dead.
The first hint of this in the Bible comes from Daniel 12:2 which says, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Whereas Sheol was understood to be simply the place of the dead—both the righteous and the wicked—the Book of Daniel suggests that the dead will be raised.
In a few hundred years people went from believing that death was the end to a belief that death was not the end at all. They even came to believe that the life that comes after death is the best life of all. This had to have been a huge comfort to them then, as it is to us now.
Our first lesson today comes from the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation is a description of what is to come. It is not a description of the way things are right now. It envisions a day when all the redeemed from all the ages are gathered together in a great worship celebration. It comes from the revelation that John saw, it is a vision that John received.
The book of Revelation is one of the more challenging books in Scripture. Christians have seldom agreed on how to interpret it or what it means. It sounds like it was meant to sound—the crazy ramblings of a senile prisoner isolated on a rock island. The sun and the isolation had already affected his brain; that was how it was meant to sound. John was imprisoned on the island of Patmos. Christians were being persecuted for their faith and as one of the last surviving Apostles; John sends a message of hope to the Christian community. And he uses a strategy that gets his letter past his captors, he uses coded language that the intended audience would understand. His Roman guards read a crazy letter that just demonstrated his dementia; but for those Christians that received the letter, it was full of hope and encouragement.
The book is loaded with all kinds of symbolic and metaphorical language. It doesn’t make much sense if you read it literally. But if you read it to get the one major point, it does make sense. John’s Revelation holds out the hope and belief that God’s work will ultimately triumph.
In Revelation, John has a vision of heaven, and in it he sees a great multitude from every nation standing before the throne and before the Lamb of God, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cry out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (7:9-10).
These saints are standing in the presence of God, proclaiming that salvation belongs only to God and to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. There is an ancient Latin phrase for their particular position, Coram Deo, which means "before the face of God," or "in the presence of God." To stand Coram Deo is to be aware of God's presence and to be sensitive to the involvement of God in human life. To live Coram Deo is to realize that God is working to forgive, to heal, to strengthen and save us; it is to believe that salvation belongs only to God and to the Lamb.
Coram Deo is no degree of separation.
Coram Deo “out of every tribe and every nation”.
As I reflected on this passage and this day, a few things come to my mind:
- It is important to remember that we remember that in John’s vision and in this account there is one from every multitude, one from every nation. I have been stressing to you the importance of not allowing our differences to divide us, and this text today again reminds me of this. As we all will one day stand in the presence of God - there will be no more differences, and those with whom you may vehemently disagree, will be standing there too. Also God’s children. Stop letting differences divide. To use the words of Brene Brown - we have an inextricable connection - to both the living and the dead. We are human.
2. Could we not be living Coram Deo today as well to the best of our ability? “With no degree of separation?” Those who are gathered at the throne here in the Book of Revelation have no degree of separation from the presence of God. Should we not be striving for the same here on earth? As we go about our week this week I encourage you to think about those things that may be causing you separation from God. Malice in your heart? Hate? Gossip? Strive for Coram Deo this week.
3. As we reflect on All Saint’s Day, remember that we as Christians have a unique position on life and death. We do not mourn as those who have no hope.
Our burial service in the Book of Common Prayer begins with the words:
I am the Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he die.
And everyone who has life, and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die forever.
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.
For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.