November 1, 2020
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6 (see 6)
1 John 3:1-3
All Saints Day and the days that surround it provide an occasion to remember saints both famous and obscure, including those we have known personally—family members, neighbors, teachers, and others who have in their lives given us a glimpse of God’s love. This is also a day for various groups to remember their heroes—those who have made a difference in building, sustaining, protecting, teaching, guiding, supporting, and even challenging communities in the course of their history. Remembrance allows us to maintain our connections to these important people and to allow their influence to continue.
Interestingly, today’s Scripture readings pay little attention to the past; rather, they point us to the future and invite us to consider our call as we live in the present moment. In place of a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Lectionary today provides a selection from the Book of Revelation. And what a scene it describes: “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation” (Rev 7:9), all gathered before the throne of God in a celebration of victory.
There are so many striking details in this picture, but I invite you to consider just two. First, this text suggests that we can look forward to lots of singing in heaven! Yes, all the effort that we put into encouraging, promoting, and enlivening congregational song is helping to prepare people to take their place in the great eternal choir with all the saints.
Second, the focus of attention here is actually less on the multitude and more on the object of their hope—God and the Lamb (Christ). The saints who have endured persecution and struggle direct their praise to the throne of God because they share in the victory of the Lamb over suffering and death. Writing to communities who have experienced severe ordeals at the hands of Roman rulers, the author offers a message of hope that following the often-difficult path of discipleship now will ultimately lead to God’s victory and God’s reign.
In today’s selection from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus explicitly connects that hope for future glory to faithful living today. You poor, you sorrowing, you meek ones, you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, you merciful ones, you pure in heart, you peacemakers, you persecuted—rejoice! As you live on the margins, as you follow the path of discipleship, as you work to advance justice and peace, know that God’s reign awaits you. Your future has already begun because you have embraced the way of God now.
We are called on this feast not merely to remember saints of the past, but also to be the saints—God’s holy ones—as we respond to our call each day and trust God’s promise for the future. As the author of 1 John reminds us, “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed” (1 Jn 3:2). Rejoice and be glad!
A Hymn for Today: “Around the Throne a Glorious Band”
When first published in 1783, this hymn based on Revelation 7:12-17 was presented in the form of a dialogue. This updated version expresses the remembrance aspect of today’s celebration while also directing the singers’ attention to hope for the future and the call to live as disciples in the present.
Around the throne a glorious band,
The saints in countless numbers stand,
Of ev’ry tongue, redeemed to God,
Arrayed in garments washed in blood.
Through tribulation great they came;
They bore the cross, despised the shame;
From all their labors now they rest
In God’s eternal glory blest.
They see their Savior face to face,
And sing the triumphs of his grace;
Each day and night they sing his praise,
To him the loud thanksgiving raise:
“Worthy the Lamb, for sinners slain,
Through endless years to live and reign;
You have redeemed us by your blood,
And made us faithful priests to God.”
O may we tread the sacred road
That saints and holy martyrs trod;
Wage to the end the glorious strife
And win, like them, a crown of life.
Text: Rowland Hill, 1744-1833, alt.
Suggested Tunes: JESU DULCIS MEMORIA, OLD HUNDREDTH, ROCKINGHAM, LM
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.