During the reign of Oliver Cromwell, the British government began to run low on silver for their currency. So the desperate Lord Cromwell sent his men to investigate the local cathedral to see if they could find any precious metal there. After inspecting the cathedral, they returned to Cromwell and announced: “The only silver we could find is in the statues of the saints.” To which Cromwell replied “Good! Melt down the saints and put them into circulation!”
The label “saint” is one that is often misunderstood. In popular culture, we define saints as those who have an inordinate amount of patience. We may speak of one whose spouse nags incessantly and say, “I don’t know how he stands it. He’s such a saint.” But the biblical meaning of sainthood is something very different. In scripture, saints are those who place their faith in Christ and entrust their lives to Christ in this world and in the life to come. So, one does not need to die to become a saint. In fact, if one is not already a saint in this life, such as status is unlikely in the life to come. Furthermore, saints are not defined by a docile, compliant lifestyle. Saints put themselves out there; they circulate among others boldly demonstrating how different life in this world can be when we live from a place of confident trust in Jesus; when we live from a place of trust, not fear; boldness, not withdrawal. When we live with the confident knowledge that how things appear in this life is not the complete picture.
Today is a day when we honor the saints triumphant. We look backwards to remember and celebrate the lives of saints who have gone on to their heavenly reward. We recall the saints of history; people like the apostle Paul, John Wesley, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. And we name and remember the saints of our time whose lives of faith influenced how we live here and now, day by day.
The Book of Revelation is a reading addressed to the saints. Though we often don’t think about it, Revelation had a very specific historical context and literary audience. It was a revelation given to seven churches in first-century, Roman-occupied Asia Minor – which was hardly a welcoming cultural context for early Christians who could easily find themselves subject to anything from prejudice to out and out torture. The world was a violent and dangerous place for Christians of this time period. Their world was stressful, anxiety-producing and threatening. Yet, truth be told, many of us today find ourselves in life circumstances that also result in stress and anxiety. We don’t fear being literally thrown to the lions; but we may feel as if we are being spiritually torn to shreds. There are things in our lives that are threatening to our physical health, our financial security, our relationships, even the institutions or traditions we hold dear.
And so, here in the 7th chapter of Revelation – here in the midst of this great apocalypse – time seems to suspend and we get a preview of what will be our final destination. We’re given a glimpse of life at the end of time. We find ourselves in the place where our life’s journey will end: before the throne of God Almighty. And there it is that we discover that everything we ever feared, everything we ever lacked, and everything we were forced to endure has been redeemed, transformed; exchanged, so to speak, for something entirely new.
I imagine most of us are familiar with the clique “it’ll all come out in the wash.” Using a laundry metaphor, the phrase communicates that, just as dirt on an article of clothing will come out in the washing machine, likewise, the things that baffle us, frustrate us or distress us will, in the end, come out fine. Now at our house, Britt and I use an amended form of that cliché because one need not live long before one discovers that, in this life, things do not always come out in the wash. In this life, sometimes the things that confound us are not clarified. In this life, sometimes the things that frustrate us are never fully resolved. In this life, sometimes the things that concern us or threaten us don’t get fixed and may even become worse. Life in this world offers no guarantee that it’ll all come out just fine. We live in a sinful, broken world and sometimes that’s just the way it goes. So, as I say, at our house we have amended that cliché. What Britt and I say to one another is “everything will come out in the eschatological wash.” Eschatology or the eschaton refers to the end times. It is that time when we reach the end of life in this world and find ourselves standing before the throne of God; painted into the picture, so to speak, of Revelation 7; standing there among the elders, the angels and the saints. And there, finally there, we discover that everything has come out in the eschatological wash; that our hunger has been fed, our thirst has been quenched, our confusion has been cleared away, our frustrations have given way to peace, all that has ever concerned us or threatened us is no more and every tear has been wiped from our eyes.
And so today is a day to celebrate the saints who lived and died trusting in Jesus; who lived and died knowing that it would all come out in the eschatological wash. And today is a day to remember that we are saints here and now: called into circulation; to go about our days not held captive by pain or sorrow or fear. To live not in ways that display anxiety or negativity or hopeless resignation; but to live as those who are confident that, when we reach the end of time, our story will have a happy and triumphant ending. Today is a day to worship and to remember. And our worship and our acts of remembrance should inspire us; embolden us so others will know when they see us – when they observe our words, our actions, our attitudes – that the best is yet to come.
There was once a woman who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. As she began to put her affairs in order, she called her pastor and asked him to visit so they might discuss her funeral service. They discussed hymns, scriptures, etc. Then, before the pastor left, she said, “There’s just one more thing.” “Sure, what is it?” asked the pastor. “This is very important,” the woman said. “I want to be buried holding a fork in my right hand.” The pastor looked perplexed. The woman explained, “You see, pastor, in all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I remember when the dishes were being cleared after the main course, someone would lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork.’ That was my favorite part of the meal, because I knew something better was coming, like chocolate cake or deep dish apple pie. Something wonderful to end the meal!” A smile came on the pastor’s face and the woman continued. “When I die, I want people to see me there with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, ‘What’s with the fork?’ Then I want you to tell them, ‘Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.’”
Friends: today we celebrate the saints. Today we celebrate that no matter how things may appear in this world, it’ll all come out in the eschatological wash. Today, with our lives we proclaim the good news: the best is yet to come.
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