Acts 9:36-43; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:23-30
A multitude of nations. Every tribe. All peoples and languages.
When I read about the heavenly worship of Revelation, I am transported to the international arrivals gate at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. Twice in recent months I’ve stood on the other side of the security doors, at the end of the roped-off tunnel waiting to meet someone returning from a trip across the ocean. Both times I’ve subtly wiped away tears witnessing reunions of families and friends. It felt like every tribe, nation, language and people gathered in expectation. Children and old people. Those wearing hijabs, turbans and prayer shawls. I marveled at the diversity of color and custom, clothing and culture. Some people embraced, others kissed, toddlers got scooped up and hugged, younger generations lifted baggage for their elderly relatives. I texted a friend who’d been feeling disillusioned with xenophobic headlines and hate crimes: “If you want to experience some joy, come to the international gate of Dulles airport. This is what the world can, and should, look like.”
Many of those waiting did so laden with flowers, balloons and signs. Often the message read: “I love you.” Equally as frequently the mylar balloon said, “Welcome back!” I noticed none said, “Welcome home!” Why? I wondered. Then it dawned on me that most of those streaming out those double doors had left their home, often for painful reasons, not so much by choice but by necessity. War, poverty, lack of opportunity, oppression. Certainly, others left home and came to the United States for economic advancement or educational enhancement and perhaps stayed, but others risked the trip because staying home was no longer an option. Hence, welcome back, not welcome home.
That’s a stark difference between Dulles and the heavenly reunion depicted in Revelation. Those who worship the Lamb, every distinct tribe and nation, are fully welcomed home. No more deprivation or crying. No more fear or dying. Joyous songs, the same chorus, sung in a multitude of languages. That’s what worship around the One worthy to be praised looks like and oh, do I long for such a suffering-free place.
The two texts with this week’s Gospel lesson reveal what it looks like to be cared for by the Good Shepherd. Not even death can keep us from joining our voice in the hymnody of heaven. Peter to Tabitha, like Jesus to Lazarus, calls out the name of the one God so loves and they rise. (Did Peter remember what Jesus told the disciples, “You will do even greater works than me”?) Those who’ve been through an ordeal – the pain of being driven from home, the grief of violent killings, the agony of watching disease ravage a loved one, persecution, oppression, racism and the indignities of lacking life’s necessities – all now receive the promised living water, the satisfaction that cannot be taken away, the eternal life Jesus gives. Fully known, completely welcomed, cared for, accounted for, welcomed home.
The Easter season continues, resurrection power on the prowl, called upon by Peter in that room with Tabitha and available to those of us brave enough to believe that new life comes with trust in the Risen Lord. The Easter season continues, reconciliation not just demonstrable beyond the gates of heaven, but entrusted to disciples of Jesus Christ here on earth, evident just outside the doors of the airport and in our own backyards — if we are willing to be the ambassadors of it we are instructed to be. The Easter season continues, hunger and thirst abated not only after surviving the ordeal, but even now as living water springs from the believers’ hearts and pours forth into a parched world. The Easter season continues, eternal life promised by Jesus, seen in the Risen Christ, available to every people, tribe and nation, on the lips of disciples entrusted to proclaim it right where they are and to the ends of the earth. The Easter season continues, on earth as it is in heaven, when we gather to worship the Lamb to whom salvation belongs and who came that the world might not be condemned, but instead know its God-belovedness. The Easter season continues, when the unity of the eclectic, distinct, diverse multitudes robed in white and holding palms is reflected in our homes, sanctuaries, communities and country.
When we look around and see the disdain, the evil, the schisms and the rancor, the empty tomb feels far away, the alleluias faded, the shock of seeing our Risen Lord a distant memory. But, make no mistake, the Easter season continues. The worthy Lamb is on the throne and rules all that is seen and unseen. The living water cannot be contained in the believers’ hearts. The wailing of the mourners will be replaced by the salvation songs echoing from heaven and throughout the ends of the earth. The ordeal does not last forever. God will wipe every tear from every eye. All the nations and tribes will come together in praise. Every division bridged through the cross of Christ. No one will snatch the sheep of the flock of the One who knows each fully and by name. The question is: Do you believe and trust?
If so, how then will you live?
In a few days I will be back at the international arrival gate at Dulles. I can’t wait to see the reunions. The exuberant embraces. The children swung up on their fathers’ shoulders and gathered in their mothers’ arms. I suspect I will wipe away a few tears. I will be so happy to welcome home my son who’s had the joy of traveling around the world for the sheer pleasure and curiosity and fun of it. But what I really look forward to is that day when all people – every tribe and nation, no matter their language, clothing or customs – will be gathered together, united, fully known and loved and welcomed home, the ordeal past, the hunger long over, the singing glorious in all its multiplicity of dialects and accents. And what I really hope is that those of us in Jesus’ flock remember that the Easter season continues right here and right now and through the power of our Risen Lord, God’s kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven, so let’s live that way.
- How do you read the story of Peter resurrecting Tabitha in Acts? Do we take it literally? Metaphorically? Something that happened then but not since?
- What stands out to you about the worship described in Revelation? How is our earthly worship like and unlike the heavenly worship in Revelation?
- Where do you encounter a multitude of languages and people? Where do you not see a diversity of every tribe and nation? When have you experienced being among a diversity of people? What was it like?
- In John’s Gospel, Jesus says that those who belong to his flock hear his voice. How do we know if we are hearing Jesus’ voice or not? How much agency do we have in belonging to Jesus’s flock?
- What is the “ordeal” that is referenced in Revelation?
- What does the promise of eternal life mean to you?
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