Second Reading: Revelations 7:9, 14b-17
Suffering and Glory
9 After this, I looked up. Wow! There was a huge crowd, so large no one could count everyone in it. They came from every nation and race. They had different colors and spoke different languages. They all stood before God’s throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in long, white robes and waved palm branches in their hands.
14b One of the elders told me, “These are people who washed their robes and whitened them in the blood of the Lamb. 15 So, they stand here before God’s throne and serve him day and night in his Temple. The One sitting on the throne will cover them with his presence. 16 They won’t be hungry or thirsty any more. The sun won’t fall on them and burn them up. 17 The Lamb is now with them! He will act like their shepherd. He will guide them to springs that have the waters of eternal life. And God will wipe away all their tears.”
9 After these (events), I saw, and Look! a great crowd, which no one was able to count from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, having stood before the throne and before the LAMB, having been clothed in long, white robes and palms in their hands, 10 and they shouted in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation (is) to our God, the one sitting on the throne and the LAMB.” 11 All the angels and the elders and the living ones stood in a circle (around) the throne, and fell before the throne on their faces and worshiped God, 12 saying,
“Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and strength to our God unto ages of ages. Amen!”
13 One of the elders answered (the previous praise), saying to me, “Who are these, the (ones) clothes in long white robes and where do they come from?” 14 I said to him, “My lord, you know.” He said to me, “These are the (ones) coming out of the great tribulation and they washed their long robes and whitened them in the blood of the LAMB. 15 Because of this, (they) are before the throne of God and they serve him day and night in his temple and the (One) sitting on the throne will pitch his tent upon them. 16 Neither will they hunger, nor will they thirst, and the sun will not fall on them and will not burn them all up, 17 because the LAMB in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and will guide them to springs of living waters and God will wipe every tear away from their eyes.”
7:9 “clothed in long, white robes and palms in their hands” The color white referred to purity and victory (were the robes were a reference to baptismal clothes?). The palms were signs of celebration (see 1 Maccabees 13:51 and 2 Maccabees 10:7).
7:14 “ I said to him, ‘My lord, you know.’” In context, the word “lord” did not refer to God, but was a phrase of polite exchange, since the person addressed was one of the elders. “Sir” would be a good translation of the word.
These verses represent the gathering of all the faithful at the end times, in praise of God and the Lamb. The uncountable throng in 7:9 was the same as the infamous “144, 000" described in 7:4-8 (that is, 12,000 faithful times the 12 tribes of Israel; since the number “12" represented fulness and completion, the 144,000 represented the fullness of the faithful remnant). But, in this context, the faithful remnant of Israel not only comes from the Diaspora, the spread of God’s chosen throughout the world. No, the faithful come from every land, every people, every race, speaking every tongue. They would gather together at the end for one purpose: to give praise the Lord.
The environment was the royal throne room of heaven. John painted the ceremony as a revelation of royal glory (influenced by the court proceedings of the Roman Caesar; the shouts of praise reflected the titles for the Caesars). Yet, John the Elder alluded to the Feast of Booths, a harvest festival where pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem and camped around its Temple, so they could be close to the divine presence. The palms reinforced this later image, since the Feast included processions with palms.
The clothing and the context of the dialogue after the shout of praise revealed a tension between the liturgical and end times elements. The elder stated two qualities of the faithful around the throne. First, they entered the throne room after they endured the sufferings of the end times (the “great tribulation”) and washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb (an allusion to Baptism and Eucharist). These would be the same faithful who the Lord would shepherd and lead to “living waters” (an allusion to Baptism; see John 4:10). In other words, John the Elder saw a clear connection between the persecution of community and its liturgical worship. To join the Christian community meant suffering; suffering for the faith was a prerequisite for worship before the throne of God.
Second, the community of the faithful was protected by God at the end time. There would be no more hunger or thirst (see the connection of the end times blessing with the Eucharist in John 6:35). And they would see God’s justice. The destruction of the evil in the world (symbolized by the heat of the sun) would not touch them. The Lord himself would comfort them (God would wipe every tear away).
This scene leaves us with one overarching theme. When we worship God, we should bring our sufferings to him. Being Christian may not bring us popularity; it may bring us pain. But Christ did not promise relief from pain. In fact, he promised us a share in his pain. But a share in his pain will bring a share in his glory. This is the meaning of the Eucharist. Share in suffering. Share in glory.
How do you share your pain with the Lord? In prayer? In life? How does he share his glory with you?