“Who Are These, Clothed in White Robes?” (Revelation 7:9-17)
Today, on this first Sunday in November, we observe All Saints’ Day. On All Saints’ Day, we rejoice that we are part of that great communion of saints that is the church of Christ, both the church on earth and the church in heaven. All the saints, all those made holy by the blood of Christ. Saints, holy ones, set apart to belong to God alone. All saints, all of us who have been baptized into Christ and clothed with his righteousness.
On All Saints’ Day we commemorate the faithful departed, those saints who have fallen asleep in the Lord and joined the Church Triumphant. In particular, we remember the faithful departed from our own midst who have died in the last twelve months. This year we remember our dear friends Homer and Dorothy Rouggly and Bob and Dottie Worsham. What a thing it is with each of these two long-married couples that the wife should go first and then the husband just a few months later: Dorothy in May and then Homer in August, Dottie in June and then Bob in October. I think maybe the Lord was being merciful to those poor husbands who were left without their dear partner in life.
This is a special All Saints’ Day for me personally, as this year the first Sunday in November falls on November 5. For it was on November 5, 1995, All Saints’ Day 22 years ago, that my daughter Anna was baptized on the eighth day of her life, one week after she was born, and it just so happened to be my mother’s 80th birthday, what turned out to be her last birthday on earth. What a memorable All Saints’ Day that was!
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today I want to tell you that there is a strong connection between a person’s baptism into the new life in Christ and the sure hope of the resurrection unto the eternal life we have in Christ. We see this connection reflected in the white gown of a child’s baptism and the white funeral pall that often is placed on a Christian’s casket. We see it in the white liturgical color of the paraments for All Saints’ Day.
Today, then. there is a “perfect storm” of heavenly grace coming together. Think about it: It’s Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the day our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. It’s a great day for remembering our baptism. And it’s All Saints’ Day, when we remember the faithful departed and look forward to joining them in the resurrection at the Last Day. So today I want to draw a line connecting these three events: Christ’s resurrection on Easter Day; your baptismal day, when you were raised to newness of life; and the day of Christ’s return, when your baptism will be consummated in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting in the age to come. Easter Day, Baptism Day, and the Last Day: The common theme is resurrection, and the common thread connecting the three is seen in the liturgical color white.
This color and this connection are found in our reading today from Revelation 7, where it says: “Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’” And so our theme this morning, that question: “Who Are These, Clothed in White Robes?”
“Who are these, clothed in white robes?” These are the saints, baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and thus assured of their own resurrection unto the eternal life and bliss of heaven. Easter Day and the Last Day have their connecting link, for you, in the day of your baptism.
Easter Day is the foundation and basis for everything that follows. Without Easter, without Christ’s saving death and victorious resurrection, there is no salvation, no baptism, no hope of heaven, no resurrection of the body, no life everlasting. Without Easter, there are no saints, only sinners, sinners condemned to death and damnation.
Everything depends on the blood of the Lamb. The saints in white robes are saints, holy ones, precisely because “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Christ Jesus is the Lamb who was slain as the perfect sacrifice for all our sins.
Your sins, your violations of God’s word and will, weighed heavily against you. You were born in sin, born with a sinful nature, inclined to walk your own way and not in the way of your Creator. Your lack of love, a lack of love for God, a lack of love for your neighbor–this is evidence of your sinful condition. Sins of thought, word, and deed–my failure to do the right thing, my tendency to do the wrong thing–this honestly is who I am. The misery and death we all experience in this sinful world–this is our common lot. All Sinners, not All Saints–this is who we are by nature. Who will rescue us from our sin and death and the grave and the abyss beyond?
Thank God for the blood of the Lamb! For God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, came down from heaven for us men and for our salvation. He came into our fallen world and taught and walked the way of righteousness. He is pure and holy, doing the will of God as man was intended to do. And yet this holy, pure, and righteous one was rejected by men and condemned as a criminal. He suffered death, even death on a cross, shedding his blood in the process. Christ suffered this willingly, for you, in your place, taking your sins and their punishment on his sinless shoulders. The holy precious blood of the Lamb is the price he paid to win your forgiveness, so that your sins are no longer held against you.
That he was successful in his saving mission is shown forth, most gloriously, on Easter Day. Our Lord’s victorious resurrection on Easter shows that the Father accepted the Son’s sacrifice as perfect and complete. The Lamb who was slain is now raised from the dead, and he lives forever in the glories of heaven.
Now how does Christ’s victory over sin and death by his death and resurrection get applied to you? In Holy Baptism. Your baptism day is when Easter gets delivered to your doorstep, with your name on it. The saints are saints because they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. All your sins are washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism, when the forgiving, cleansing blood of Christ gets applied to you. God is doing his work here, his saving work of turning sinners into saints. That’s why the white garment is the traditional garb for those being baptized. For in baptism we are clothed with Christ, clothed with the pure, sinless robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all our sin. “Who are these, clothed in white robes?” They are you and me and all the saints, all the holy ones made holy by the blood of Christ.
Your baptism day is your own personal Easter Day. You are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, and that is saving and wonderful and glorious! This is cause to celebrate and rejoice! The old Adam of sin and death is drowned and buried, and the new man in Christ is raised to newness of life. Every day now you live in your baptism. You have a new life to live now, a life of faith and hope and love. This dying and rising with Christ happens each new day. This is the daily life of his saints.
Your baptism into Christ not only has meaning and power for your everyday life, it also points you ahead to the Last Day and your own resurrection and the life of the world to come. That is why the Funeral Service in our hymnal begins with a Remembrance of Baptism, recalling the promise God gave you on the day you were baptized. A white funeral pall, if the church has one, is placed on the casket, and the pastor says: “In Holy Baptism, Homer or Dorothy or Bob or Dottie was clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covered all his or her sin.” And then this passage from Romans 6 is read: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Do you see it? Do you see the connection between Easter and baptism and resurrection? In baptism, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness. In baptism, Christ’s resurrection becomes our resurrection–a rising to new life now, and the physical resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day when Christ returns. The white color of Easter Day, the white garment of our baptismal day, and the white color of All Saints’ Day makes the connection for us most vividly.
“Who are these, clothed in white robes?” These are the saints, baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. “Who are these, clothed in white robes?” These are Homer and Dorothy and Bob and Dottie and my mom and all our loved ones who have died in the faith. “Who are these, clothed in white robes?” These are you and me and my daughter and all of us baptized saints right now who have been assured of our own resurrection unto eternal life and the bliss of heaven.
And, oh, what bliss that will be! Revelation tells us: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, this promise is for you! “Who are these, clothed in white robes?” Dear friends, they are you, the baptized saints of God!