Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s lesson from Revelation is traditionally read on All Saints Sunday.  It is one of the loveliest passages in the New Testament. The text inspired the Danish hymnist Hans Adolph Brorson to write the beloved funeral hymn, Behold a Host.  It offers the faithful God’s grand promise that he will one day wipe away every tear, and that he will be their shepherd guiding them to the springs of the water of life.  Now as wonderful as this may be, without the context of the John’s book of Revelation, we may glimpse this comforting vision of heaven as simply a final reward waiting for those who have endured the hardships of this world.  We may well miss that this story offers immediate hope and encouragement in troubling times.

In the previous chapter we read last week, John recalls the vision of the Lamb who broke the first four seals of the sacred scroll releasing the horror and destruction of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  This was to be the dreaded day of the Lord’s coming, when people wondered, “Who is able to stand.” Two more seals were then broken and two more great calamities were unleashed. The physical foundations of creation were rattled, and the destruction felt so imminent that all the people hid.  God’s faithful found refuge beneath the altar, while those who abandoned the Christian faith or chose never to embrace it fled to caves in the mountains.

Even for John, this vision was becoming virtually unbearable. The suffering and destruction of the breaking of the first six seals was overwhelming. So just as his readers were beginning to anticipate even more destruction with the breaking of the seventh seal, John offers a delay. The scene shifts from the earth to the heavenly realm. Four angels stand at the four corners of the earth holding back the winds of destruction and judgment. It is a moment for God’s people to reflect upon the seal they have been given in baptism and as opposed to the mark given by the powers and authorities of the world.  This is what John sees in his revelation is captured in today’s artwork of the Multitude and the Adoration of the Lamb. The scene, you see, it is not simply about a future reward, but it is about a present-day strength and hope.

The image on the bulletin is what is called an example of Biblical illumination. The term “illumination” refers to the literal “lighting up” of the book pages with bright flecks of silver and gold.  But the word has a more spiritual meaning, too, which is to interpret the given text, to elucidate it, to celebrate it; to shine a light on beauty and help to bring it out more strongly. In the Middle Ages, texts were illuminated using representational art depicting recognizable forms and styles.  Regrettably, when the printing press was invented in the fifteenth century, the art of manuscript illumination ended. Books could be made much faster and more cheaply without the hand painted colored images.

The Adoration of the Lamb has been presented in a variety of ways. Sometimes the focus is the Lamb, in other cases it is the creation. In this illumination, the anonymous artist has chosen to underscore the culture of ancient Rome with the color white and the palm branches. In Rome, it was the custom for those seeking political office to wear a white garment, signifying moral purity. “Candidatus” means white in Latin. This practice gives us the English word “candidate” The palm branch, or palm frond, is a symbol of victory, triumph, peace, and eternal life originating in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean world.

In this illumination, we see John of Patmos standing at the left side outside the frame, struggling to understand the vision. He is holding a copy of his book, pondering his revelation and questions the elder whose face is pictured in the window. He explains to him that those in the white robes have survived the tribulation and washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. The Lamb signifies the crucified Christ whose blood purifies the faithful from all sin.  The central image shows a mandorla encasing God enthroned with the Lamb. They are surrounded by the symbols for the four Gospel writers at each corner: Matthew as the winged man, John as the eagle, Luke as the ox, and Mark as the lion. In four horizontal rows we see the saints or angels with halos at the top; next the twenty-four elders in prostrate worship; and then the multitudes in the bottom two rows from all the nations that no one can count holding palm branches.  All except John and God wear white, symbolizing victory and resurrection.  There is a wonderful twist on the palm branches. They signify not only signify victory, but they also evoke Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday proclaiming that the worshipers even now are gathered in the heavenly Jerusalem. Here, they are worshiping loudly, crying out their praise and thanks to God and their Savior, the Lamb. for salvation is with God. This is the promise held out to all who choose to remain faithful to the Lamb.

The message of this passage of Revelation offers a promise of consolation and reward for those who have endured the great tribulation.  But more importantly it encourages the readers that they have a choice of where they should find strength, and refuge and hope now. God’s faithful will always face sorrows and destruction in this world, just as unbelievers.  We will not be spared this hour of trial and testing.  Still there is a refuge waiting those who are marked with the seal of baptism.  Ultimately, it is that hope that will strengthen us in our own times of ordeal and tribulation. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.