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Advent Meditation on Joseph

The reading for Sunday, December 17, 2017: Matthew 1:18-25 This Sunday we read about an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream. We've no...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

ALL SAINTS SUNDAY
NOVEMBER 2ND 2008
FIRST READING Revelation 7:9-17
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying,"Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." 13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" 14I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal ;they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
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“Why am I suffering like this?”

The words were whispered, urgently whispered, in a voice shocked, surprised, and worn.
Six words, then she spoke no more. Not that day or the next until she spoke, one surmises, in the Kingdom.
Why am I suffering like this?

It was a few years back and I was visiting someone in hospice, in a coma, in the last days of her life. Family and friends had gathered. They came and went in shifts. Standing, sitting, talking. Wandering in and out. Remembering, weeping and holding one another in support. Her breathing had grown shallow and struggled a bit, though thank goodness for hospice keeping her comfortable. She no longer squeezed my hand back when I entered and spoke soft words and prayers and squeezed her hand to let her know that I was there. I had walked over to the lounge to be with those who had gathered there, gathered for a break from death and the dying. To sit and not have to hear the sound of breathing, in a place where noise was OK, and one could enjoy a moment of peace without having to wait for death, to watch for it. We spoke, shared memories of small consequence. Kept it light and easy.

We had not gotten out but a handful of thoughts when someone still standing watch in the room ran and to tell me, tell us, that she had called for me. SHE had called for me. That she had inexplicably sat up from her near death coma looked around the room and called for me with her eyes wide open.
I entered. Her bed was surrounded, the room full.
She looked at me and spoke:
“Why am I suffering like this?”
And then she returned to her sleep.
Every eye in the room turned to me, expectantly, wanting to hear the answer to a question that had no answer.

“Why am I suffering like this?”

Suffering is as old as human life – as long as we have walked upon the earth - its first threads woven into the story of the Fall from the Garden of Eden itself. Adam forced to work the land for food by the sweat of his brow and Eve to experience the pain of childbirth. The suffering of pain until then unknown.

Suffering, too, has been a mark of the Christian faith and its congregations from the beginning. Not that Christians are called to go looking for it or to revel it in or hope for it – but rather that suffering comes: Sometimes as a matter of course for just being human and sometimes for being Christian.

It is believed that the seven churches to whom the Book of Revelation is addressed were undergoing persecution by Rome that was leading to suffering. Following the strong persecution by the Emperor Nero mid-way through the 1st century, being Christian was tantamount to being part of a criminal conspiracy – a threat to good order – a threat to the harmonious relationship between people and their gods. If the provincial governors wanted to they could persecute Christians at will. A major purpose of the Book of Revelation, then, according many Biblical scholars, was to offer comfort and encouragement to persecuted and suffering Christians.

Listen again:
13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" 14I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal ;they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Why am I suffering like this?
Suffering is something that connects us as human beings.
Perhaps that is why every head in the room turned hoping for an answer.

Did you hear? That at the gates of heaven something marvelous happens. God waits for us and for our tears, to wipe them away forever. That tears have no place there. That suffering does not happen there. Thirst is gone and hunger, too. That God makes sure of it. All of it left at the gate. The pain. The loss. The ache. The brokenness. That is the reward that the saints receive – the fulfillment of the promise as a child of God – the fullness of our baptismal promises made manifest.

I remember years ago sitting with an older woman, the mother of a member of this church, who had gone to the hospital, her disease having progressed with no hope for turning back inevitable death. I stopped by her hospital room and as soon as I plopped myself down on a chair, she had some things that she needed to tell me.

“Jesus came by last night and said that I am going home and that he would take me there.” She was quite matter-of-fact about it. Smiling actually. Peaceful. Now I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know how to take what she said. What does one say, supposing that something should be said. The statement acknowledged as powerful as it was. As confident as she was. I should say something, I thought. “That’s wonderful!” was all that I could manage and then shut up for awhile to think about it. Another saint of God entering into the fullness of the promise given in her baptism some 90 years earlier. She went to sleep and the very next day she died in peace. No questions left unanswered. Ready to go home with Jesus to lead the way.

As Lutherans we declare that all of us are saints of God, consecrated in our Baptism, sealed with Christ, adopted by God, and made inheritors of the Kingdom. Some will suffer during the course of their lives, some greatly, some perhaps not at all. It is not our suffering that makes us a saint, but God, who chose us all in Christ Jesus. Why there is suffering and why one suffers, while another might not, are questions that will have to be left in this life. Left at the cross in whose shadows, perhaps, such questions are ultimately lost, rendered in time as meaningless, as we, too, receive the fullness of the promise given to saints.

"These are they who have come out of the great ordeal ;they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Amen.

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