Veteran's Day. Talk about a day worth celebrating. On Nov. 11, 1918, the armistice was signed essentially ending World War I. The next year, President Wilson proclaimed the day "should be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory." And since then, it has grown as an opportunity to honor the veterans, not just of World War I, but all those who have fought for our freedom.
And there are reasons to celebrate. I can't even imagine how exciting it would have been to be there for VE (Victory in Europe) Day or VJ (Victory over Japan) Day in 1945 at the end of World War II. But I've seen pictures. And I'm sure if any of you were a part of it, you won't soon forget those celebrations. The closest I can come to relating is sports celebrations. But when we're talking about the victories our veterans have brought home - that's much more than sports. Those are matters of life and death. Those are matters of freedom or slavery.
But our reading from God's word goes one better. It shows the VS Day celebration. It shows the VD Day celebration. In Revelation chapter 19, we see the celebration going on around God's throne because of the victory Jesus won over sin and Satan (VS) and his ultimate victory over death (VD).
This Sunday is known as Saints Triumphant Sunday - a day where we set aside time to celebrate the victories that God has given to our loved ones who now celebrate around his throne in heaven. Let me quote how John describes what he saw when God let him glimpse this celebration seen in Revelation 19: "After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.'
And again they shouted: ‘Hallelujah!'"
It's cool to think about that celebration that is going on even as we seem to be living in a place where Jesus looks anything but triumphant. It's awesome to contemplate those songs of praise to God - but all that is going on in heaven, right? Sometimes, heaven just seems so far away, doesn't it? You read passages like this and it's easy to see a huge separation between where we are and where that is. Living where we are living, dealing with what you are dealing with, there doesn't seem to be such reason to cheer.
Hallelujahs don't seem to just naturally spring from our insides. Not when we have to deal with loss, and pain, and want, and heartbreak, and death. When you look at all the things you have to look at every day, our cheerleader John has his work cut out for him here if he wants us to join the celebration, doesn't he?
But thankfully, it's not just John. You see, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle John to write what he saw in this spiritual pep rally that is the book of Revelation. Remember, this was a book written to believers going through persecution and pain and loss and death. And its purpose was to give comfort and joy. And as we look at this text, we'll see that God has found the key that causes our celebration - that causes us to cry "Hallelujah!" which means "Praise the Lord!"
That's what the saints triumphant, that great multitude in heaven, that's what they are shouting around that throne: Verse 1: "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God." You see, they have seen the victory. They've seen the final play.
So often, we're sad when our loved ones leave this life - but they aren't. They just entered that victory celebration. And notice what they are celebrating about.
In verses 2 and 3 they are shouting about how God judged the "great prostitute" - that picture that the Revelation uses to describe the way Satan uses his power in the church, through the false teaching and misplaced priorities that are all too common in religion today.
It runs from the sex scandals to the money scandals to the out and out lies. You see, so often churches here appear to have the power as they align with politics for whatever the goal; they appear to have the glory when you see the money and the splendor and the bling in the name of religion; they appear to have the salvation as they manipulate people to achieving their goals instead of Christ's. But do you see the song of the saints who have seen the final play? ""Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God," not to those churches.
Even against all those forces that try to draw people away from Jesus, either by using organized religion to misplace their focus or by using the failures of organized religion to turn them off to time with their Savior - even in the face of all of that - Jesus wins. Praise the Lord!
Are you singing it? One day you will be. When you see the final play... When God calls you home, you'll be singing with your parents and grandparents and all the loved ones who died in the Lord - you will be shouting that Hallelujah. And next week, we'll look at how that celebration can start even now! God bless your week!
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.