a sermon on Revelation 21:1-6a and Isaiah 25:6-9 for All Saints’ Sunday
preached on November 4, 2012, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
We’ve spent so much of this past week waiting: waiting for the storm to come, waiting for the winds to die down, waiting for the waters to recede, waiting for the lights to come back on, waiting for the bus and subway to start up again, waiting for heat, waiting for food, waiting for water, waiting for gas, waiting for word from our friends and family, waiting to get word to our friends and family, waiting for some sense of normal to return, waiting and waiting and waiting some more. In the midst of all that we have experienced this week, we’ve all spent some time waiting. To someone immersed in the life of the church like me, this is not the right time to wait—Advent, the season of waiting, is still a month away! But here we have it—Sandy made us wait, and we still have more waiting to do.
Then our texts today, two of the texts appointed in the lectionary for All Saints’ Day, also confront us with the challenge of waiting. All Saints’ Day this year comes at a perfect time—amidst everything that we’ve seen this week, a remembrance of the faithful who have died seems so very appropriate. But these texts don’t point us to a remembrance of the dead—rather, they talk about the things ahead for all of us, about the things we are all really waiting for.
They tell us of a new heaven and a new earth—not the reconstruction of a familiar place to its former glory, not the rebuilding of a flood-torn and fire-touched land, not the rebirth of a water-scarred world—but a new and different way of life and living, a changed world where God’s presence never goes away, where sorrow and pain are changed forever, where God steps in to wipe away all the tears from our eyes, where all things are made new. Our texts today tell us of a world where all people have everything that they need, where a great feast fills every emptiness, where the weariness of death and destruction itself will be destroyed, where all disgrace will be removed and every place will be made new.
But at the core of all these new things is what we have seen so well in our own world of late: waiting. There is no promise here that these things will come immediately, no guarantee that they will emerge on our timetable, no insistence that the pain at dusk today will be eased by dawn tomorrow. Instead, the promise is that the waiting will give God all the more glory!
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God,
we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
But on this All Saints’ Sunday, on this Sunday after Superstorm Sandy, we have the right to be ready to be done with our waiting. We’ve waited more than enough this past week, and we shouldn’t have to wait anymore. Those without power shouldn’t have to wait any more to get lights and heat and refrigerators and phone and television and internet. Those who haven’t been able to get to work because the trains weren’t running or work wasn’t open shouldn’t have to wait any more. Those who can’t yet get back home to see the damage and destruction of their neighborhoods shouldn’t have to wait any more. Those who don’t yet know if their friends and family survived the storm shouldn’t have to wait any more.
And yet we must wait. There’s nothing we can do at this point to get our lights on or the trains running or the islands made safe. So much of what must be done in these days is best left to those with the training, skills, and gifts to do it safely and efficiently. But even as we wait, there is something incredible going on. People are stepping up and saying that they want to help. Neighbors are stepping in to care for those in need, carrying water and fuel up many flights of stairs, opening their homes to those who have none, shouldering a bit of the burden in the midst of the storm. Women and men around the world are moved by what they have seen and want to respond—and by doing more than giving money to relief efforts. I suspect that one of the biggest unanticipated challenges for our civic leadership amidst this unprecedented disaster has been what to do with all those who are wanting to step in and help now, and I hope and pray that this spirit isn’t quashed by the necessary professional work of these days or the bureaucracy inherent in dealing with anything on a New York City scale!
But amidst the promises of something new and glorious ahead and the necessary pain and suffering of waiting, what are we to do? I think the waiting of these days calls us to do two things. First, we are called to put our trust in God, who waits with us. Not only is God preparing the new thing that is coming, God is waiting for it with us now. God is waiting with us in the presence of friends and family who listen to our complaints and hear our cries and remind us that we are not alone. God is waiting with us in neighbors who open their homes and clear the debris and share their tools and bear our burdens. God is waiting with us in strangers who show up in unexpected moments to offer us even a brief vision of grace. God is waiting with us in those who are working tirelessly to restore the networks of support that keep our community and our world running. God is waiting with us in the women and men who have gone before us and beside us and still bear witness to the way of life in faith. God is waiting with us in the communities that know us and love us and share the feast of faith with us. And so we have waited for God, with God, so that God might save us.
But also in the midst of our waiting, we are called to step up and act, to be the presence of God for others in the face of crisis, to journey with those who are also waiting, to support those who have the gifts and talents to step in all the more, to contribute to the well-being of all people who wait for the things of these days and more. The necessity of waiting, you see, is no excuse for inaction or complacency, for letting those who struggle every day struggle all the more, for allowing the usual order of things that prefers the powerful to go unquestioned, for suggesting that we can only help those who are able to help themselves.
I am glad to say that we as the church have already done some things to step up in the waiting of these days. Our church building was open this past week during the day for those who did not have power to have a warm place to sit and talk or work, charge their phones, and just get out of the house. But even before the storm, our annual offerings to the One Great Hour of Sharing collection helped pave the way for the very current response of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, who are on the ground in New York and New Jersey right now assessing the damage and planning their next steps over the long term recovery. And every Sunday this month, we’ll be receiving a special collection to assist with this important work of meeting the needs of those in greatest need and who have the most to wait for.
So in these days of waiting, may we ourselves embody the witness of the saints, trusting that God is waiting with us, giving thanks for the faithful presence of brave and heroic friends, neighbors, family, civic leaders, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, nurses, doctors, transit workers, ConEd line workers, and countless others, even as we ourselves offer the presence of God in the midst of the waiting of this recovery and the hope and promise that all things will be made new, once and for all.
May we know God’s presence in the midst of all our waiting until we share the great feast of heaven and earth with all people everywhere and the day of peace that now shines so dimly shines brightly everywhere forevermore. Lord, come quickly! Amen.