Behold a host arrayed in white
Like thousand snow clad mountains bright
With palms they stand.
Who is this band before the throne of light?
(Behold a Host, Hans A. Brorson, c. 1760)
This day on the church calendar grows all the more precious to me the older I get, for the number of those dear to me in that ‘host arrayed in white’ grows more robust with each passing year. And yet, for all of those for whom I light a candle and remember each All Saints Sunday, there is still really just the one I carry closest of all. One whose dying has me yearning most deeply for the promises of this day.
It came to me again last week when a beloved cousin came to visit. He had stopped to see his folks the night before he flew out and as he sat with them he told his dad he was going to see Kathleen. “You remember Kathleen, don’t you dad? She was Tommy’s wife.” (Kathleen is my mother.)
Now in these recent years my dad’s brother does not remember as he once did. For a moment last week, though, there was clarity as he remembered his only brother and as he registered all over again the fact that he had died and with that remembering, his face fell along with his tears. And mine did, too, to hear of his remembering.
There is always one, at least, if we are so fortunate, it seems to me, who we carry so close that even decades later nothing makes us more grateful than the gift of that time and place so vividly described in today’s words from Revelation…
A time and place:
- where the whole world will gather and join together in song and where we will be washed clean,
- where hunger and thirst will no longer hold sway,
- where there will be shelter from all that would harm,
- where the very water of life will sustain us,
- and where God himself will bend low to wipe away our tears.
Only at first this surprises me, it does, that John would imagine a place so glorious, but that there would still be tears to wipe away. Are these tears but remnants of the suffering left behind or are they fresh tears wept by those who identify still with all the suffering, all the yearning of those yet bound to this earth? Or is this an image which is meant simply to convey the truth that in that wondrous time and place we will experience the intimate nearness of God in all of God’s fullness? For is there anything more tender than reaching over to wipe away another’s tears?
I do not yet know, of course, and neither do you. But in John’s vivid telling now, we do know this, that the day will come when those we have loved will be gathered close to the heart of God — so close, in fact, that they will know it in all the ways there are to know it. And that even now, whether we commended them into God’s eternal care two days ago or twenty years ago, God’s hand is already there wiping away the signs of our suffering with his promise of life abundant and full.
And this I know as well. Last week my Uncle Rod tasted the sharpness of his grief again for just a moment and I tasted it, too, in the telling of it once more. Only with a breath for him it was gone once more — Tommy remembered, yes, but the chasm left by his dying was no longer his to experience. And while we ache to witness one we love slowly lose those parts of his having lived which memory holds dear, I find myself grateful that at least the suffering is forgotten now as well.
In a similar way, one day, when you and I have joined that ‘host arrayed in white,’ the chasms which were left by all of our losses will not only be forgotten, but they will be filled once more by our God who would and will and does bend down to wipe away our tears. Even now.
And so it is that All Saints Day becomes more precious to me each year. Not only because the ‘host’ of those I have loved keeps expanding, but because the promise of what will one day be becomes all the more dear as well.
So with all of you, I will light the candles this All Saints Day.
In memory and in powerful hope we will light them.
Standing confident in the very promises of God we will light them.
Amen. May it be so. Amen.
- Who is in that ‘host arrayed in white’ for you this All Saints Sunday? What makes the resounding promises of John’s vision in Revelation especially precious to you now?
- Does it seem odd to you that in that place described so gloriously that God is wiping away our tears? Why or why not?
- In the congregation I serve, we will be lighting candles first for those from our midst who have died in the last year and then for all the rest whom God’s people remember. What makes your All Saints Sunday celebration especially meaningful where you live and serve?