The Fourth Sunday of Easter: May 12, 2019
I am intrigued by the vision given us in Revelation today. It speaks of God’s people as a great multitude, “that no one can count.” It is an amazingly diverse multitude of every nation, tribe, people and language. All worship. All are robed in white. All.
Then there is that huge word, “salvation.” It belongs to the Lamb. We throw such words around in church assuming everyone knows what they mean. Here, salvation is more than personal experience. It is about restoration, renewal, re-creation, and it applies to individuals yes, but even more to all of heaven and all of earth. Who in their right mind, living on planet earth, doesn’t long for a new creation, “on earth as it is in heaven?”
And yet it does often come down to the personal, doesn’t it? Do any of you recall a song called “Tears in Heaven,” written by a musician named Eric Clapton back in 1991? The song is a memorial to his son Connor, who at four years old, fell 50 stories to his death from a New York City apartment building. Working through his pain, Clapton’s lyrics ask questions from a heart-broken, grieving father: “Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven?” “Would it be the same if I saw you in heaven?” “Would you hold my hand if I saw you in heaven?”
Listen to how Revelation responds. The multitude spoken of is not merely a nameless blob. They have identities. A few verses before today’s Gospel reading Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” They are Tabitha and Paul, Lazarus and John, Peter and Simon, yours and my mothers and fathers, our and other’s loved ones, refugees, immigrants, martyrs, people of the disassociated diocese, Connor, and all the company of heaven. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me…they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” These are some possible responses to Mr. Clapton’s longings expressed in his song, even echoing Revelation today when he sings, “Beyond the door there’s peace I’m sure; And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven.”
Whatever salvation means, including the realization of a new heaven and a new earth, it is apparently not stingy or limited. We cannot control it or set boundaries on it. Again, it belongs to the Lamb and is for a great multitude no one can number.
The Jesus we discover today is the shepherd. He knows us. He calls us and our life of prayer and worship helps us to recognize his voice when he speaks. This same shepherd is the one who kept telling stories of the unlimited nature of God’s love. It is an intimate longing by God for each of us, mirrored in Clapton’s longing for his own child.
Death is powerless to dissolve God’s love of us, again Jesus saying, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” Nothing and no one is beyond his embrace. Jesus was kind of annoying that way as he was constantly saving people nobody thought could be saved or was worth being saved. He was relentless, even dangerous, in his kingdom vision where he was always expanding borders, forever gathering the great multitude. Caroline, I hope you know that’s part of what you’re getting yourself into today by coming forward to make your vows. We promise to go with you on that journey.
Claiming Jesus’ vision as our own, do we find ourselves disturbed that not only the rhetoric, but also many of the actions of the world seems to be increasing in volume and frequency that is anti-black, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, ant-gay, anti-Semitic – language that constricts us and makes us smaller? Jesus, in his teaching about the Reign of God, over and over again holds up a possibility that is dramatically different. He teaches of a God who is like a careless farmer throwing seed about with abandon leading to miraculous growing and reckless harvesting with no sorting out of the good from the bad. He is the shepherd who leaves the 99 to find just one who is lost. It raises for us the question of what kind of community we are building, what kind of faith we want others to see in us, “seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” The multitude.
In the first century church the distinctions of the day for rights and privileges among Gentile/Jew, male/female, were done away with, destroyed in the embrace of Christ. We are called again today to gather around Jesus, not ideologies, not our fear. It might make us a bit nervous. Seemingly reckless and extravagant love got Jesus killed. What if someone gets loved or included who we think doesn’t deserve it? But this is the kind of God we have.
Let’s go back to the vision in Revelation. “A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages,” that huge, without-limit throng before the throne of the Lamb, embraced by the promise of eternal union with God. The world is hungry for this kind of love and we are to be making it real even now.
So to Mr. Clapton, speaking a question to his son and perhaps, also to God, “Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven? Would you hold my hand, if I saw you in heaven?” Yes, a thousand times yes. For Jesus is risen, and “no one will snatch us out of his hand.”
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Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.