Revelation 7:2-12 / Matthew 5:1-12
How many saints do you imagine you have met in your life? How many of the people you have spoken to daily — in school, at work, friends and family, rivals and adversaries — do you suspect are even now numbered among God's elect, signed with the sign of the living God ... in their foreheads? Who among those you barely notice — the cashier, the tollbooth attendant, fellow passengers on the bus or subway — who among those anonymous throngs we pass by without any notice will be find themselves standing before the throne and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hand?
We just might, after all, have good reason to be optimistic that the number is quite large. While many, both those with exotic ways of reading Revelation and unbelievers alike, recall the hundred and forty-four thousand who are numbered there, they tend to forget that this is not an account of the full number of God's elect, but rather those who were signed out of every tribe of the children of Israel during the Last Days. In fact, mere verse away, Revelation denied to us any merely countable sum, but instead presents to us a vision of a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, joined together in collective worship and common confession: Salvation to our God Who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, keeping company with the angels, the elders, and the four living creatures.
If we attend to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in his Sermon on the Mount, we might more readily see how wide is the scope of holiness, of blessedness. Who are the blessed? The poor in spirit, the meek, they that mourn, they that hunger and thirst after justice, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, and, much to our surprise, even us, when people revile us, and persecute us, and speak all that is evil against us, untruly, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Can we read the newsfeed online, can we watch the television, peruse the newspaper, or for that matter even be minimally attentive to the street on which we live and not conclude that blessedness must be scattered far and wide? Is there not plenty of poverty, in spirit as much as in money? Are there not many who mourn or seek daily for justice which never seems to come? For all our cynicism, have we not known from those we have wronged real and unmerited mercy, or found from the object of our darker desires not an echo but rather the bracing and cleansing company of one truly clean of heart? Are there not more than we can remember who have brought peace where we could find none, as well as those who are ill treated merely for doing what is right? And, even if we are not attentive to it and it remains a story largely untold in the media of the West, can we be unmoved by the numbers of those daily persecuted for receiving the grace and name of Jesus Christ?
Yet, perhaps we rebel. Perhaps we see such multitudes and wonder whether we have made grace too cheap, have ignored the dire warnings of the Lord Jesus that the road to death is broad, and many those who walk by it, the gate to truth and life narrow, and few are they who find it. Even so, is not much of our anxiety not so much theological as existential? Does it not stem from two worries, namely that we know all too well the weakness, darkness, and rebellion that lives in even the best servants of Jesus Christ, and that we know even better our own? Is not our resistance to cheap grace a way to keep our feet to the fire, to disallow and easy resting spot for our own pilgrimage, our own conversio morum? Might we not be worried at the credibility of the Gospel, even of our own faith, if men and women such as these, such as ourselves, might actually be the means by which God proclaims his infallible truth and pours out his grace for the healing of the nations?
The is, and always has been, the mystery of the Church, the mystery of Christ's Body, from the incorporation of Adam and Eve, through the people of Israel, to the Church today. It has never been otherwise. The body of the elect always has been, and always will be, composed of sinners being made righteous through capital grace, the grace we receive a united to Christ our Head. We have undoubtedly met countless saints, and may indeed be well acquainted with the one we see every day in the mirror. These men and women with their sins, failures, and weaknesses, are the very stones with which God builds his holy Temple.
This is the mystery we proclaim today, and this is at the heart of all Christian hope and the cause for our rejoicing. O how glorious is the kingdom in which all the Saints rejoice with Christ, and, clothed in white robes, follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.