The reading from Revelation set for All Saints’ Day paints a vivid picture of the future – looking forward, imagining an ultimate destination for all of the saints, for all of us.
The technical term for the book of Revelation is that it is ‘eschatological.’ Eschatology is the study of the last things. Under its umbrella in Christian thinking we could place the coming of God’s Kingdom, the return of Christ, immortality and eternal life, judgement, heaven and hell – perhaps too, what we might understand by ‘Christian hope’. The passage in Revelation is a vision of what the future might hold.
The book of Revelation is written to a church suffering persecution. That church found the imagery of Revelation dramatic and hope-giving. Words of hope spoken to people in the midst of suffering.
The author is encouraging their first hearers to believe that there is something more than the difficult things they are currently experiencing. That ultimately, the faithful will have a place in a new heaven and a new earth. The author hopes that such knowledge will change their listeners understanding of the present.
We are now entering the time in the Christian year when our eyes are turned to look forward. Where the Gospel and our other readings look ahead – not just to the Incarnation – the first coming of Christ – but to Christ’s return. We will hear words on Jesus’ lips that promise his return, parables that encourage us to be ready for that return. A return that has not taken place and which, at times, it seems might never take place.
It is true that all that the Gospels promise us has not yet been fulfilled. The death and resurrection of Christ are at the heart of our faith. Jesus has inaugurated his Kingdom here on earth. But we know that everything that the Kingdom stands for seems as far away today as it must have done in Jesus’ day.
As we listen to Jesus words over the coming weeks, we will hear him emphasising that we are living in what we might call ‘in-between times’. As Jesus speaks, he seems to say, “My death and resurrection will inaugurate the Kingdom, but its final fruition is dependent on my return.”
He wants his listeners to know that their lives are lived within an on-going flow of history which reflects the purposes of God, a history which will come to an end in God’s good time. He wants them, and us, to realise that while we cannot know the time and place – God will bring all things to a final conclusion.
We live in the ‘now and not yet’ of God’s salvation history; looking forward with real hope to a time when history will finally be resolved, when Christ will come again. But living now with the reality of a world of complications, of joy and sadness, of hope and disappointment; a world where God is seen most clearly in the lives of those who love and serve him – even when serving God brings persecution and trouble. And so, John, in his epistle, says:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when Christ is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
We are being transformed, made new, through our experiences in this life. Day by day, God is working that transformation in us. Our Gospel reading gives a shape to the transformed lives we are to live as God’s saints here in the present:
“Blessed,” says Jesus, “are those who are aware of the poverty of their own spirit – who realise just how easily good motives turn to bad. Blessed are those who mourn over their own weakness. Blessed are those who choose a path of meekness rather than power and self-aggrandisement. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Blessed are all these because in doing so they will be changed, they will be renewed. The very characteristics that they long for, they will have. Blessed they will be, as they are merciful to others, as the purity of their motives and their heart becomes clear. Blessed they will be as they become courageous peacemakers.”
“Most blessed will they be,” says Jesus, “when they share something of my sufferings.” For through those sufferings they will be transformed and truly be the salt of the earth, lights in the darkness of a world which is longing for the acceptance and the love of God.