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by Ted Schroder
October 30, 2018

Christians are future oriented. We do not fear the future. We deal honestly and courageously with the end of this life because we have a future to look forward to. What do we see when we look into the future? The past we know, the present we are experiencing. What about the future? We have more to look forward to than we have days that are past. All Saints' Day reminds us that we live in fellowship with the communion of saints -- all those who have gone on before us into eternal life. As a prayer I use at Memorial Services states: "Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before."

First, where have they gone?
Second, what are they doing?
Third, how is the future different from the present?
Fourth, how can we be sure that we will be reunited with those who have gone before us?

Where have they gone? When our loved ones depart on a journey we are curious as to their destination. Our minds imagine what it must be like to travel to exotic places. We plan trips. We find joy in anticipating them. St. John is given a vision of the faithful departed.

"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne, and in front of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9)

Those who have gone before us are many more than those of us who remain in this present life. From the beginning of time God has created a people who are destined to stand before him, in his nearer Presence. They are those who have experienced his salvation, who have suffered and survived the troubles of this world and have been washed, cleansed and restored by the blood of the Lamb. This great multitude has been rescued, delivered from the tribulations of their lives by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. The Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world. As the blood of the Passover lamb saved the people of Israel from death in Egypt so the blood of Jesus saves us from eternal death. As the annual Passover feast reminded the people of Israel of their deliverance, the Supper of the Lord, Holy Communion, reminds us of our salvation.

What are they doing in that Promised Land?

"They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them." (Revelation 7:15)

In the life to come there is the opportunity to serve God -- to work in his kingdom for his glory -- to experience the dignity and value of being productive through loving and serving God and our neighbor. There is nothing more fulfilling than being able to use our gifts to benefit others. In order for us to feel that life is worthwhile we need a cause beyond ourselves. Someone or something to serve. If a person doesn't enjoy serving God and delighting in his presence in this life, he will not enjoy it in the next. The person who does not know how to serve God and his neighbor with joy in this life does not know how to love. Jesus himself, "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Serving God and our neighbor is not a matter only of duty but of a desire to express our love for them. The love that serves comes to its fruition in the life to come. A serving heart is motivated by love, the love of God, the love that gives itself away out of gratitude for all that the loved one means to us. This love that serves is what we aspire towards in our prayers. "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:17-19).

The love of God is experienced when he shelters us in the royal tent of his Presence. "I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love" (Song of Songs 2:3-5).

How is the future different from the present?

"Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst." (Revelation 7:16)

Whatever it is that causes us to hunger and thirst in this life will be taken away. Poverty, famine and starvation will be eliminated. We can hunger and thirst for the wrong things in this life. Our desires in this life can create great dissatisfaction in us. Love for this world that displaces love for the Father: "the cravings of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- the boasting of what we have and do" (1 John 2:16). We can become addicted and obsessed by the wrong things and misplaced priorities. Selfish desires can lead us astray and dissipate our energies. We covet but we cannot have what we want. When the love of God fills us in his presence our desires are satisfied. Jesus said, "He who drinks of the water I shall give him shall never thirst again. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14). "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matthew 5:6).

"The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat."

There is the removal of everything that can harm us. Too much sunshine can create a desert. We need the shade that God will provide. "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty" (Psalm 91:1).

How can we be sure that we will be reunited with those who have gone before us, those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb, who want to serve God and be filled with the love of Christ? What is our assurance that we will reach that destination?

"For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:17)

Jesus is the good shepherd. He knows his sheep, and he lays down his life for the sheep. "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand" (John 10:27-29).

There is no need for any further tears of grief because the Lord is our shepherd. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me" (Psalm 23:4).

The Lamb is at the center of the throne. He will lead us. "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth, and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise" (Rev.5:12). We can be sure that Jesus can be our shepherd and he will lead us to our heavenly home where we will join the great multitude of the communion of saints from every background.

A Prayer:

Heavenly Father, we remember those whom we love but see no longer, the unseen cloud of witnesses of the communion of saints. Those who in every age and generation witnessed to their faith in life and in death. Those who by their courage and their sacrifice won for us the freedom, liberty and prosperity we enjoy today. Those for whom the trumpets sounded as they passed over to the other side. Those whom we have loved, who have gone to be with you, whose names are written on our hearts.

Grant to us in your good time that we may share with them the joy of your nearer presence, that we also may come to that eternal life, where all the questions are answered; where all the tears are wiped away; where we shall meet again, never to be separated from them, those whom we have loved and lost awhile; where we shall ever be with the Lord.

So grant to us in this life never to forget those who have gone before us, so that in the life to come we may share their blessedness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(After William Barclay)

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