Safely Home

Then I saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.”

And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel …

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God Who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”                          Revelation 7:2-10


A man who had been a train engineer for many years ended his talk before a group of fellow trainmen with the following story:

     Years ago, on every night when I would finish my run, I would pull open the whistle and let out a blast just as we came around the curve, and I would look up to a small hill where stood a little white cottage.  There, standing in the doorway, would be a little old man and a little old woman.  I would lean out of the cab window and we would wave at each other.  As my engine would go shooting into a tunnel, the old couple would turn to go back inside, and the little old woman would say to the little old man, “Thank God, father, Bennie is safe home tonight.”

But at last the day came when we took mother and laid her in her grave, and then each night as I came around the curve and blew the whistle the little old man would be at the door.  I would wave to him and he would wave to me and then as my train shot through the tunnel, he would turn and go slowly back into the cottage and say, “Thank God, Bennie is safe home tonight.”

But the time came when father was carried out and laid in his grave.  Now when I finish my run, although I pull open the whistle and let out a blast, there are no dear ones to welcome me home.

There will come a day for me when the last run will have been made, and I will have pulled the last throttle and whistle for the last time.  But I know, because of what Jesus has done for me, that as I draw near to heaven’s gate, I will see my dear old mother turn to my dear old father and hear her say, “Thank God, father, Bennie is safe home at last.” (unknown author)

“Thank God, father, Bennie is safe home tonight” – “safely home” – there is a wonderfully comforting ring to that.  The day’s work is done, nothing bad in a major way has happened.  You are surrounded by people who love you; you don’t have to push, you don’t have to try win anybody’s approval – you let out a sigh of relief.  “Safely home” – you can relax now.  This is of what All Saints’ Day reminds us, we look at all those who are safely home with the Lord.  But our celebration also has a challenge for us.

Within the past year, we have had a great celebration on Easter because the most amazing event in the history of the world – and, I would add, the history of the universe – had occurred in a cemetery by the city of Jerusalem: Jesus had risen from the dead.  I doubt that we could say enough about it.  Sin is no longer the killer of mankind.  Death no longer has the last say to human life.  Our sins have been paid for, not just by a man, but by God Himself – and that makes it about as final as it can get.  The resurrection is the ultimate proof of all God’s promises, the ultimate proof of God’s power, the ultimate proof of God’s love.  It is the pivotal point of all arguments for faith in Christ, the pivotal point for the Bible.

This occasion was so profound that it even changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday, so that our worship services are like “little Easter” celebrations every week, making Sunday in St John’s words, “the Lord’s Day” [Revelation 1:10].  The resurrection turned cowardly disciples into death-defying apostles and martyrs.  It gives us a most hope-filled consolation at a funeral and a confidence as we face life.

In the midst of this, what Jesus had said to Martha on the way to the tomb of Lazarus, whom He was about to raise from the dead, is very significant: “I am the Resurrection and the Life” [John 11:25].  He did not say, “I give a resurrection,” nor “I bring a resurrection,” nor “I demonstrate a resurrection” – no, it goes far deeper than that.  He says, “I AM” – “I am identical to the Resurrection, and the Resurrection is identical to me – My Person, My presence is the Resurrection – I AM the Resurrection.”
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We have just read in Revelation about the great crowd in heaven which no man can number, who stand before the throne of the Lamb … no … they stand before the throne of the very Resurrection Himself in Person.  They live because He lives, they rejoice and praise God because through Jesus they have shed death and now really do stand there before Him.

What our celebration of All Saints Day does today is to challenge us: do we really believe this??  It is here where, as the saying goes, “the rubber meets the road.”  It is one thing to agree to some doctrine, but it is another to actually depend on it.  It is one thing to read about the great crowd, but it is an entirely different matter to seek in that crowd the faces of the people about whom we love and care, especially those whom we have mourned.  It is one thing to fantasize about how beautiful their songs of praise must be like, but it is entirely a different matter to listen closely for the voices of those whom we know.

It is only when we begin to do this that the celebration of this day really springs to life.  Now we start to truly rejoice in the confidence of knowing, as the opening story put it, that “Bennie is safely home tonight.”  We begin to realize that this is not merely some pleasant daydream, but rather as concrete and real as the people whom we have loved have been real.

How we long, and how wonderful it would be to actually be there in that throng.  How wonderful it would be to see the faces and hear the voices again.  How wonderful it would be to feel the touch of the hand the people who are special to us.

But for the moment, notice something: John describes the great throng as standing before the throne, but right now we also in this service are standing before the throne of this same Resurrection, this same Lamb of God, this same Jesus – and what is happening here is what is happening there.  We have been drawn together before Jesus, and we also are praising His Name and the great deeds He has done.  Suddenly we are aware that it is only a very flimsy curtain of death that separates us and what we are doing, from that great crowd and what they are doing.  And then to realize that in heaven “time” is meaningless, so that all of this – what they are doing, what we are doing – is merging into one celebration of praise and joy before this throne.

It is right here where the Resurrection Himself steps through that curtain of death to be present now in our midst.  It is here where He gives Himself to us, where He enters into us, where He becomes one with us.  “Abide in Me, and I in you” [John 15:4], Jesus had said on the night He gave us Holy Communion.  These are the same words He has said to every one of those who are in that great host of people.  In a oneness we cannot fully understand, here in the Resurrection Himself we are also able to reach across that flimsy curtain and touch those who are there – all of them who have surrendered themselves to this Conqueror of death.

This is what the Fellowship of the Saints – or the Communion of Saints, the Holy Christian Church of the creed – is all about.  Unmistakably they surround us right now, and as we lift our voices in song and praise, they also join us, unfortunately to our ears it is so faint.  Yet they are here in Jesus, joined each day by more and more who now participate that great throng and who now join us in the words of the Sanctus: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of pow’r and might: Heaven and earth are full of Your Glory. Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.”

What a powerful message is displayed before us in this celebration! Yet just who are these Saints?  Well, they are the “holy ones.”  Who are the “holy ones”?  Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that Jesus has loved us and gave Himself up for us, that He might sanctify us [that is, make us holy], having cleansed us by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present us to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we might be holy and without blemish [vv 25-27].

We, His People, are the “holy ones.”  No, we didn’t make ourselves holy – “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” [Titus 3:5].  Jesus has washed us with the water and the Word; by Baptism He has accomplished this amazing gift.  Baptized into Christ we have put on Christ [Galatians 3:27], we are wrapped up in His holiness.  We and all who have gone before us are the “holy ones,” because whenever God the Father now looks at us, He must see us through Jesus, and all He sees is His beloved Son, in Whom He is well pleased.

That does not mean that we will not stumble and fail in our holiness.  But that is another reason why we come today and rejoice together with the saints before the throne, because “Salvation belongs to our God Who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb.”  The Resurrection has crossed the flimsy curtain of death yet once more to share with us the very things that have won this salvation for us, His very Body broken on the tree, His very Blood poured out to give us life, hope and forgiveness.

Bennie is indeed safely home tonight.  The saints around the throne are safely home tonight.  And in the presence of the Resurrection Himself, He Who through St Paul proclaimed that “nothing in all creation will separate us from God’s love” [Romans 8:39], as we also here stand before the throne, we realize that for right now, we also are safely home.  What a joy to be united, if only briefly, with all those whom we have known, whom we have loved, and all the rest of that great multitude as Jesus’ one Holy Church, His Body, His Bride, in one Communion of  Saints.

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