Sermon from Esther Handschin
about Revelation 7,9-17
Dear sisters and brothers,
in the Book of Revelations, it talks also about a book with seven seals, meaning a book, which has been locked several times. It is hard to open and thus also hard to read and understand. This is how I see the Book of Revelation. It is not easy to understand what it says here. There are many images, figures and creatures, which need to be unlocked, unveiled or understood. The images of the Old Testament are helpful for this. The Book of Revelation was created in a time where Christians needed to hide their faith. With the help of these locked images, many things can be said or hinted at, which cannot be said out loud. If one did it anyway then they risked their life. I hope I will be successful in unlocking some of those images and imaginations, so we too can see how the vision of seer John might be connected to our life.
So what can we see? Together with seer John, we are looking at the heavenly throne room. We are looking at God’s home, His throne in heaven and we see, who has gathered there. In the paragraph before this one, they are talking about 144 000 sealed people. They are representing the peoples of God. From every one of the tribes of Israel, there are about 12 000 there. All in all, this is an unimaginably high number. All of them are wearing a sign on their forehead, a seal. Whoever wears this seal, shall not be harmed. The seal is a sign for protection and preservation just as at the beginning of the Bible Kane has been given such a sign. Nobody should kill Kane, despite the fact that he killed his brother Abel. From nobody should the dignity of being a human to be taken away, no matter what they did.
Let’s go back to the Book of Revelations; it is not only the 144 000 from the tribes of Israel who will find a place in the presence of God and His throne. There are many more. So many in fact that they are uncountable. From all peoples and nations, with different languages and skin colors. It is the old and great desire of the tribes of Israel, that not only they are recognizing and serve their God. It has been a dream of Israel and its prophets that also other people feel God’s grace and experience some of His salvation. For example prophet Micah (4,1-2): „But in the days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of the mountains; it will be lifted above the hills; peoples will stream to it. Many nations will go and say: “Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob’s God, so that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in God’s paths!” Instruction will come from Zion and the Lord’s word from Jerusalem.“
Now they were standing before the Throne, with their white robes and the palm branches in their hands. The palm branches are signs of victory. Whoever holds them has had a difficult battle behind them. Once again we feel something from the background of the origin of this biblical book. The life of the Christians then was a difficult battle. Distress, hardship, intimidation, up to torture and death were the things they were expecting. Some lives ended too early because of it. All the more the Christians will be encouraged through this book: only a short time and then it will all be over. The mighty of this world will not have their last word. Only God will have the last word and He will look after those, who will stay with Him. Thus the Book of Revelation is a book for those persecuted who seek comfort.
All those people who live in despair and are afraid, they are wearing white robes. White robes are to this day a sign of purity and integrity. Doctors and nurses are wearing white, due to hygienically reasons. The bride of a wedding is in white as a sign of sexual purity and integrity. In the Catholic Church the children, and especially the girls, are dressed in white for the First Communion. It is there to remember the newly baptized. An image for the new humans, they have become through the baptism in Christ, thus they are wearing white robes. It means: through the baptism your sins are washed away. In Christ, we are new people.
But the thing about white robes is, they will not stay white for long. Those of you who have kids can tell us a thing or two about this. One cannot go through life with white robes without even the smallest impurity, even as baptized people. A life with white robes, a life without any dirt or stains does not exist. Whoever lives on this earth, whoever lives their life, their robes will not stay white. Whoever cares for the hardship of this world, this person will stain their hands and eventually also their white robes. Whoever kneels down when there are hardship and distress, their clothes will not stay clean. Those stains are a sign of fault and blame, but also a sign of love. Because lived and loved life leaves stains. We live and love not differently without becoming faulty with each other. And thus there will be blood on our robes. Blood because we have given our lives for a hurt life. Blood because we are hurting others in this chaos that is life. And blood because we too are being hurt over and over again in the various disputes of life. A life well lived, with all its ups and downs is not guarantee for a white robe. Even Persil or Tide or any other washing detergent cannot help us with this.
To live life, to hurt and be hurt, to support hurt people: When we will be standing in front of the judge, then our robes will most certainly not be white. But the seer John saw a different image: The people in front of God’s throne were dressed in white robes. And he hears an explanation: „They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood.“ This is a weird explanation. The experience says: When one washes their clothes in blood, then they will not be white but red. And being honest, it is not easy to get rid of bloodstains. Bloodstains will stay brownish even when being washed several times. Every woman knows that. So what does this mean, when the people in front of God’s throne have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb and have made them white? Here too the images of the Old Testament are helpful for the interpretation. Just before Israel was able to flee from Egypt the ten plagues came upon the land. The worst was the tenth plague. Ever person, and even every animal, who was born as the first, needed to die. There was death in every house, with one exception: All of those houses, where the doorposts have been painted with the blood of the sacrificed lamb, have been spared. God has asked Israel to sacrificed the Lamb, so they can be spared.
This image of blood, which saves a life, blood through which life is spared, has been interpreted by the first Christians in their own contexts. They have said: The lamb is Jesus. He has died for humanity. He has given His life. His death and his resurrection are putting an end to eternal death. His blood and his life stand for life, which we are gaining anew through Him. Because He is giving us a new life, the power of death and of sin has no influence on our life. We have been washed from our sins. And this is how the seer John sees the image: the blood of the lamb washes us from all sins. This is how the robes of all people from all the tribes are white. The darkness of sin, the stains on the robes, the traces life leaves behind, those have been washed, because the people are putting all their trust in the lamb, in Jesus Christ.
Let this image be also true for us, let it be true for us what Jesus Christ has done. Wherever the robe of our life is being soaked in pain, in distress, in the blood of this world, this is where we can trust that Christ will clean the robe. Wherever we are staining our hands, our white robe, our good clothes, because we want to decrease hardship, because we are challenged by life, because we are hurting each other, because we have loved too much, there is someone who is looking at our clothes with love and He can see the stains and traces of love and life on our clothes. He Himself cleans our robes and makes them white again, brighter than we could have ever done it ourselves. Yet it is not down here on earth, but when we are standing in front of God’s throne. Here, down on earth, we are wearing our everyday clothes, the stained clothes of life. The stains of life should be worn. So in the future, we cannot hear a voice, which says, that we have never lived and never loved. Amen.