Note: Each Thursday, I'll be looking at one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. Except this week we're pulling from the passages for Saturday which is All Saints Day. All Saints Day is a day on which remember all the Christians that have gone before us. This week's passage is Revelation 7:9-17.
I think every youth group has a song that becomes an unstoppable force of nature. If someone starts singing (perhaps not knowing what it was) the entire group continues singing it forever just because it is the song that doesn't end. They are the songs that get the adolescent heart to beat with spiritual euphoria. As an adult, it is easy to look back at these never-ending choruses with some snark, but there is also a sweet kind of innocence to those moments as well.
One of those unstoppable songs in my youth group growing up was "Be to Our God," which takes its lyrics from this week's Revelation passage. And nowhere was that song more at its all-consuming, never-ending power than during our annual mission trip to Kentucky. After spending all day doing Vacation Bible Schools for local churches, we would return to a small college campus and have marathon chapel sessions. One did not go to the Bluegrass State with our church to sleep.
At some point we would start singing praise and worship songs which included late 90s staples like "Shout to the Lord" and "Light the Fire." But inevitably on one of the last two nights, we would sing "Be to Our God" and go into an infinity loop of the chorus. Before each go-around our youth minister Seth would say, "Now the 9th graders" or "Now all the ladies." My discipleship group joked that one day we'd hit a point where Seth would say "Now all the left-handed people" or "Now anyone who ate at Dairy Queen for dinner." The point is if there was a meaningful sub-group in that chapel, they were going to get their moment to sing the chorus of "Be to Our God" with all of their hearts.
Of course, these individual groups singing was all a buildup before we hit the chorus one last time with everyone singing. And we would blast the roof off that chapel. I realized later that this singing in groups and then all together was to evoke the song's home passage. We were all singing together as one despite our different grades, genders, etc. Cynicism aside, it was often make-your-hair-stand-up beautiful. In that moment it truly felt like we were singing to God.
When I read this passage, I immediately thought about those summer nights in Kentucky. Then I began to realize how what we did in that chapel is a molecule in a water droplet in an ocean compared to what is described in Revelation. There were about 300 of us in that chapel, mostly teenagers, 99.9% white, pretty much all Baptist, all from Spartanburg, SC. As good as the illustration was, we were a fairly vanilla group.
But John the Revelator's vision? Multitudes. Every nation. Every race. Baptist. Catholic. Methodist. Lutheran. Pentecostal. Eastern Orthodox. Presbyterian. And a bajillion other denominations plus people that aren't a part of denominations. There will be people of all ages. There will be people from all walks of life. The dividing lines that we draw? Erased. There will be straight people and gay people. There will be the heroes of the faith. There will be people you wouldn't expect. Singing. Overjoyed. Thankful.
On All Saints Day, we remember those that went before us. And I often think about that in the context of being reunited with loved ones or getting to meet these giants of the Christian faith (Can I go for a run with Saint Francis in the wilderness? Can I be on C.S. Lewis' team for Trivia Night?). I don't know what the new heaven and the new earth will be like. I don't think we'll spend our whole time singing and playing harps on clouds, because God seems interested in us doing a lot more than that. So the idea of meeting those that went before us is incredibly exciting.
Yet this passage reminds me of the breath-takingly beautiful image of all the saints gathering for these epic, every walk of life times for praising the great God in who we live, and move, and have our being. And because we come from so many cultures and times there would be all kinds of songs. Jewish psalms, Gregorian chants, hymns, praise songs from all over the globe, a little Gungor, a splash of U2, and, yeah, even some "Be to Our God."
Imagine that. Together with all the saints. It would be amazing. That is something for which I hope. Forever and ever. Amen.