Dwelling Worship Series, week 1 — HOPE
November 4, 2018 — All Saints Sunday
Revelation 21:1-6a (All Saints Day reading)
As someone who has the word “evangelism” in my job title, this passage from Revelation 21 serves as a touchstone for my work and ministry. Early in my tenure at Discipleship Ministries, I was at a meeting at Wheaton College, outside of Chicago, and had the opportunity to visit the Billy Graham Library. In a special exhibit dedicated to telling the story of his life and ministry, there were pictures and artifacts from the countless revivals and services where he invited individuals to become Christian and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The exhibit concluded by making a similar invitation through a visual and experiential portrayal of the gospel message. The time to resume the meeting was quickly approaching, but after walking through this part of the exhibit, I felt compelled to return to the start of the gospel presentation, pull out my iPhone, and record what I experienced.
The final portion of the exhibit began by having the visitor walk through a cross-shaped opening in the wall, which led to a circular room with Jesus hanging on a cross as the central focal point. From that room, you entered a dark, quiet chamber, representing the tomb. While it was pretty dark, you could see a glimmer of light coming from the other side of the room. As you walked toward the light, the sound of music became louder, until you were in a very bright room painted with blue skies and clouds, as the Hallelujah Chorus played on repeat. Upon exiting the heavenly room, immediately outside the door, there is a box for you to place a card affirming that you have accepted Jesus into your heart.
As I walked back to my meeting, I wrestled with the messages playing over and over in my head. Yes, we are in need of a Savior, and Jesus died for you and for me. Yes, on Easter morning the tomb was empty, and Jesus conquered death. Yes, we have the amazing hope that death is not the end and we will spend eternity in the company of God. But as good as that message is, the totality of God’s work and love found in the Scripture is even greater. And it calls us to a larger, ongoing response.
The Bible does not begin in Genesis 3 with the fall. It begins in Genesis 1, where God created the heavens and earth and called it “good.” And then God continued to create by forming humanity, companions, created in God’s own image, and called us “very good.” Thankfully, God’s story and activity in the world also does not end with Jesus’ resurrection and the empty tomb. At Pentecost, we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the church was born to continue Jesus’ message and ministry continually illustrating the Kingdom of God. Yes, after fifty days, Jesus ascended; but God’s presence and redeeming grace is still well at work.
“I am making all things new!” “God’s dwelling place is among the people.” John’s vision in Revelation tells us that despite what the Left Behind series may tell us, God’s plan isn’t to one day just completely scrap the creation that was deemed “good” and have us spend eternity floating among the clouds. God’s plan is ultimate redemption, and that work began with Jesus, and we’ve been invited to participate.
This is an important reminder on All Saints Sunday that the faithfulness and legacy of those who have gone before has not been in vain, but is part of God’s plan and work in the redemption of creation. All Saints Sunday is a time to reflect and celebrate those who introduced us to Jesus, helped form our faith, and faithfully served our communities. But this passage and Sunday also serve as a reminder that the baton has been passed on to those of us who remain. The Message paraphrases verse 3 this way, “God has moved into the neighborhood,” which means God is at work and will continue to be at work in the world, regardless of whether or not we choose to join. Yet, God invites us, equips us, and will send us into this work, if we simply have a willing spirit and open heart.
Questions to consider:
- How is your church celebrating and building on the legacy of the saints who have gone before?
- How are you currently looking for the Holy Spirit’s movement and activity in your community?
- How are you listening to your neighbors to learn about the current places of pain and need in your community?
- What would be good news (unbinding the broken, chain-releasing) to your community today?
Rev. Dr. Heather Heinzman Lear serves as the Director of Evangelism at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville, TN. She regularly works with local congregations, districts, annual conferences, seminaries, and ecumenical bodies to provide training and resources on evangelism and discipleship in the 21st Century. She holds degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Duke Divinity School, and Boston University. Heather is an elder in the North Carolina Annual Conference, and previously pastored three local churches. She is grateful for the support of her husband, and the heart of her 10-year-old son, who constantly reminds her of what the Kingdom of God looks like.