no dry eyes – a reflection on revelation 7:9-17

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Eschatology / Lectionary / New Testament / Temple
palm

Detail of palm branches from the tomb effigy of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck by Frank Duveneck (1848–1919), from the American Wing at the MMA. Photo by Rick Morley.

The following is a reflection on Revelation 7:9-17, the New Testament lesson appointed for All Saint’s Day, Year A according to the New Revised Common Lectionary. On this site there is also
• a reflection on the Gospel Lesson for the same day, and
• a Litany for All Saint’s Day.

The Book of Leviticus tells of the major festival of Tabernacles. All Israel was to gather together, and construct temporary shelters, called tabernacles, to remind themselves of their ancestors dwelling in temporary shelters for the forty year wilderness journey. They were also to pray, waving palm, and other kinds of branches, in the air.

I have to say, that I think having a great-national-camping trip each and every year would have been an awesome experience. Can you imagine being a kid during this great festival? Everyone getting to sleep outside? Everyone coming into the Big City and making their huts and waving their branches?

I think it would have been amazing.

I like to think that families would return to the same spot year after year, and would see the same families year after year. Kids would have grown up playing with their Tabernacles-friends, and adults would, each year, watch their children get a little older. And, perhaps it would have made them think back to the time when they were a child, camping out with their parents and grandparents.

It would have served as a formative experience for God’s People. It would have been one of those things that would have shaped them, and molded them.

It would have grafted in them the sense that they were a pilgrim people.

Psalm 118 gradually became a part of the liturgy of the festival, and it’s double cry of “Hosanna, hosanna!,” literally, “Salvation, salvation!,” became part of the warp and woof of the whole shelter-temple-palm branch waving thing.

Later, in one of the darkest days of Israel’s history, when the Antiocus Epiphanes IV took over Judea, and set up pagan altars and idols in the Temple, the Israelites could not celebrate anything, much less Tabernacles. After Judas Maccabee led a small band of warriors to overthrow the pagan Seleucid rein, they cleared out the Temple, rededicated it, and celebrated Tabernacles–even though it wasn’t the right time of the year for Tabernacles.

The Children of Israel would have gathered together after a time of great national strife, and after an unlikely victory, made their shelters, took up their palm branches, and shouted out their “hosannas.”

There wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the place.

When St. John the Divine witnessed his vision apocalypse, he saw God’s people gathered around the Presence of God. And, this time it wasn’t just the children of Israel gathered–but ALL people. All nations, all tribes, all languages. Gathered together.

And, what were they doing? Waving palm branches. And, singing a song: “Salvation (Hosanna) belongs to our God sitting on the throne.”

John was witnessing something new. But, it was also something old.

It was something old being done a new way.

It was the old story of God’s victory and God providing for his people, but this time it was for all people. Everywhere.

Salvation/ Hosanna wasn’t just for one nation, but for all.

John’s vision–the apocalypse–is meant to serve as a new formative vision for all God’s People. Grafting in us all the sense that we are a pilgrim people, but that our home is with God. That we’re a pilgrim people, but that our home is with people of every race and nation.

Grafting in us a sense of expectation that one day–some day–we’ll have a great Kingdom-wide camping trip. And we’ll all have a spot. And, we’ll all sing of the glory of God. And, we’ll all do the wave with branches of palm.

And, it will be awesome.

There won’t be a dry eye in the house.

The Author

follower of Jesus, father of two, husband of one, Episcopal priest, with one book down, one blog up...surrounded by empty jars of nutella