Friday, November 7, 2014
Hidden in suffering is the Church's glory. . .
In this age the fullness of the Church is, for the most part, hidden. Where the Church gathers, you see with your eyes but the tiniest part of her – this is true whether thousands are gathered in one place or two or three. Thousands, let alone hundreds, are only a small visible snapshot of the whole that we know only by faith. Yet the Church is not fractions or tidbits. She is the whole lot. So in Revelation St. John glimpses for us a vision of the whole, when the veil is lifted and all exposed.
That is what we hear in the readings for today. The great multitude beyond numbering from every tribe, people, and language. That is the church "catholic" – the word that means it all, the Church of every time and place. In the vision, all are gathered as one people before the throne of God and the Lamb.
With palms of victory in their hands and voices loud and strong they cry: Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb." In other words, we did not get here by ourselves. We were gotten here by Him who sits on that throne. So the elders and all the living fall flat to worship God saying: "Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever! Amen!" Poor John is left speechless. We would be too!
Then he is quizzed about what he sees. "Who are they and from where have they come?" He plays it safe. "You know." These are those who have come out of the great tribulation, who washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb, who serve night and day before the throne where God shelters them in His presence, where they neither hunger nor thirst anymore, and where neither sun nor moon can compete with the glory of God.
The Lamb is their Shepherd. He guides them to springs of living water; he wipes away their tears. The Church we see may be hidden in suffering and the appearance of defeat but on that day the glory of God can no longer be hidden and nothing can afflict the Church whom the Lamb has purchased with His blood. We are not there yet. We have sent ahead the saints, the giants whose names are well known and the anonymous, too.
Yet we come to the same gathering, around the same throne, real but seen with eyes of faith, hidden in the Word and promise of God and in the meal that is foretaste of the feast to come. The world neither sees nor knows us but God does. The world did not know Jesus either. He has fulfilled the Father's saving will and gathered the Church to Himself by His own bloody suffering and death.
So we come today to remember those who have gone before and to see with eyes of faith the future God has prepared for us.
When Christ comes on that great day, He will reveal Himself and no one will mistake Him. But not only He will be revealed. The Church in all her fullness will likewise be revealed. We shall no longer see through the mirror dimly but face to face. We shall see the Lamb as He is, the Lamb whose blood washed us clean in the baptismal river and who answers our hunger and thirst with the food of His flesh and the drink of His blood.
On that day, what we now see by faith will be revealed in unmistakable clarity and what is hidden will be shown in all its splendor. And you too will shine like He shines. For the glory of God is YOU – those for whom He died, those whom He has claimed in baptism, those to whom faith has been given, and those whom He fed and feeds to eternal life.
God will finish in You His new creation. He will restore to you the flesh pulled from the grave and now made to shine like the glorious flesh of Jesus. So if your body matters then, then it also matters what you do in this body, the temple of the Spirit. This is where we live – in the almost and not yet character of the Kingdom. For now we see by faith but then face to face. So we see glimpses and only in part. We see our sins and our failures, we see our struggles and trials, we see the beginning but not yet the ending. Yet He bids us not to lose heart. Even hidden, the glory of God is here. Though seen only by faith, it is still real. Even the blessed Beatitudes of Jesus declare the hiddenness of what is to come. We see these words as describing Him to us but they also declare the promise of who we shall be in Him. The mourning who are comforted, the meek who inherit the earth, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness who are satisfied, mercy for the merciful, the vision of God for the pure in heart, and the peacemakers who are made blessed.
What lies ahead is not far off. The mortals must put on immortality, the perishable the imperishable. Then shall come to pass the saying that we long to hear: death is swallowed up in victory forevermore. We look for the sign that this is indeed our future but it is already here – the Lamb is in His glory on the throne of the altar and the saints are with Him. You cannot be nearer to God or to the saints who have passed on ahead of us than here and now. But for now your faith is your eyes, this meal is your future, as the clock ticks down the end of time.
Do not give up. Do not lose heart. Do not grow weary. What is hidden will be revealed. What now we glimpse by faith, we shall see face to face. You too will shine and the darkness will not overcome you. Here is where the future is anticipated, the wounded healed, the broken made whole, the past forgiven, the thirsty drink, the dirty are cleansed, and the dead live to praise God forever. Amen.