“Clothed in White…or perhaps Purple” (Rev. 7:9-17)
St. John was an old man in exile on the island of Patmos because he had confessed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and God. Before Jesus was crucified many years earlier, John had spent three years with Jesus as one of his disciples. John was also part of Jesus’ inner circle along with his brother James and Peter. John saw Jesus risen from the dead and went out and proclaimed the resurrection of his Savior. This did not sit well with the authorities of the day, including the Romans who demanded that everyone worship Caesar as Lord. All the other disciples were executed because of their confession of faith. John somehow escaped all of that, but nevertheless was sent packing to the island of Patmos. During his time there, the Lord Jesus gave John a peek into heaven and a foretaste of things to come. This is recorded for us in the Book of Revelation, the very last book of the Bible.
In chapter 7, John sees
a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." 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. "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."
The hymnwriter paraphrased John’s words like this:
Behold a host, arrayed in white,
Like thousand snow-clad mountains bright!
With palms they stand;
Who is this band
Before the throne of light?
These are the saints of glorious fame,
Who from the great affliction came
And in the flood
Of Jesus’ blood
Are cleansed from guilt and shame.
They now serve God both day and night;
They sing their songs in endless light.
Their anthems ring
As they all sing
With angels shining bright. (LSB 676.1)
Eleanor is now among that great multitude. She has come out of the great tribulation…this earthly life in which we all deal with sin and sorrow and suffering. There’s a palm branch in her hand, the symbol of victory…Christ’s victory over sin and death when he rose again on Easter. And Eleanor is clothed with a white robe, the symbol of forgiveness and the righteousness of Christ that covered all her sin.
But I can just hear Eleanor saying, “Haven’t you got anything in purple?” Eleanor was known for her love of all things purple. She was always dressed “to the nines” even during her years at Marysville Care Center. He clothes were purple. Her nails were painted purple. Her blankets were purple. Everything was always purple.
“Haven’t you got anything in purple?” Then I can imagine Jesus replying, “Eleanor, you know what I told John. It’s all about white here. Like a clean, white garment, your sins were washed away in the waters of Baptism. And remember how my servant Titus wrote that you are saved, ‘not because of works done by [you] in righteousness, but according to [God’s] own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.’ There’s nothing you have done to deserve being here. It’s all a gift of my grace, my undeserved favor towards you. So, here, take this white robe and put it on.” (Titus 3:5)
Now you all know how stubborn Eleanor could be at times. And so, you can imagine her insisting, “But I’d really like something in purple.”
Our invented scenario continues with Jesus thinking for a few moments. Finally, he replies, “You know, Eleanor, purple may be appropriate here, after all. I once wore a purple robe. Purple has always been a color of royalty. When I was on trial, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked me if I was a king. I made it clear that I was a king, although my kingdom is not of this world. And so, the soldiers put a purple robe on me in mockery. They beat me and spit upon me. Then, they stripped me of the robe and led me out to be crucified.
“In fact,” Jesus continues, “certain followers of mine over the years, like you Lutherans, began to set aside a particular time of year in which they took more time to contemplate my death on the cross. They called it ‘Lent.’ And to signify that time of year in their church buildings, they adorned the church furniture and the pastor with purple fabric.
“So maybe you’re onto something, Eleanor. Purple is not a bad idea after all. It reminds people of my suffering and death for the sins of the world … for your sins, Eleanor, and for the sins of all people. It’s only through trusting in my shed blood at the cross and my rising to life again on Easter that people can be forgiven of their sins and counted in this great multitude of which you are now a part. And because I live, you, too, will live again. You were united to me and my death and resurrection in your Baptism. My resurrection is the guarantee of your resurrection on the Last Day, when I will visibly return as I promised. That body of yours that was laid in the ground will rise again one day, incorruptible, immortal, never to die again. Here’s how the Holy Spirit inspired my servant Paul to put it in his letter to the church in Rome, ‘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.’” (Rom. 6:5)
Eleanor did indeed trust in her Savior Jesus in this life. Every time I visited her these past 10 years since I became her pastor, I would bring God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper to her in her home and later at the nursing home. Whenever I would remind her about what Jesus had done for her at the cross and the empty tomb, she would always confidently reply, “Oh, I know that, Pastor!” Not once did I ever hear her complain about her circumstances or her failing health. Maybe she did to others who visited her, but she never did to me. She knew that God was taking care of her, and that his care came through the hands and the skills of the people who were serving her.
I also enjoyed hearing about her many trips which she took around the world. Those stories got a little confused later on. But there is no confusion where she is now. She’s on the journey of a lifetime. She has traveled to a place where there is no more hunger, no more thirst, no more scorching heat. She is in the presence of the Lamb who guides her to springs of living water. God has wiped away every tear from her eyes.
Behold, a host arrayed in white, like thousand snow-clad mountains bright. And if you look really hard, you might see one dressed in purple.