Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Jesus said, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say-- `Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
Jesus is in Jerusalem for the last time; a few days later he will be tortured and executed for his ministry and for our salvation. Throughout his ministry Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going to be killed, but they don’t understand. The disciples see success the way the rest of the world does. Just before our passage, Jesus came into Jerusalem to loud shouts of welcome and praise. Crowds and cheering: that sounds like success. Things seem to be going well, but Jesus keeps talking about death.
He keeps talking about death, but not with fear or frustration. Instead he says, “When I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself.” Jesus doesn’t see his death as a defeat; instead it is a victory. He says his death judges and drives out the ruler of the world. In other words, in death Jesus defeats the evil forces that surround us with such power.
Frighteningly, Jesus doesn’t just talk about his own death; he also calls his followers to take up their cross and follow. Our passage from Revelation shows us a vision of heaven with huge crowds of people from every nation and language cheering for Jesus and his victory over evil. These witnesses washed their robes in the blood of the lamb. Other white-robed people in that heavenly scene just before our passage begins were killed for their witness to Jesus.
John’s Gospel talks about struggle between light and darkness, the world and God. The writer of Revelation saw deep conflict between God’s Kingdom and Rome’s Empire. Followers of Jesus were persecuted or killed for their witness to Christ. When God’s values and the world’s values are in direct conflict we have to choose sides: we can be for God or for the world, but we cannot be neutral. Usually, it looks like the world is winning, but God’s love conquers through weakness.
In El Salvador during the 1980’s there was no place for faithful neutrality. The government, in the name of fighting Marxist rebels, tortured and killed thousands of peasants. The poor of El Salvador were under attack not just by poverty or hunger but also by soldiers and police and pro-government militias.
The institutional church in El Salvador claimed to be neutral; they said they weren’t involved in “politics”. Of course, if you stand by while the powerful murder the weak, you’re not neutral; you’re an accomplice to murder.
Romero hadn’t planned to be political, but he listened to his parishioners and studied the world around him. He saw the oppression and violence used against the poor, and he refused to be silent. As the threats against him increased he clung to Jesus. Jesus said: “Now my soul is troubled, and what should I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour." Romero said: “If they kill me I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.”
They did kill Oscar Romero along with many others who spoke out for justice, like the religious and political powers centuries earlier killed Jesus. But death is not the end. When the seed falls to earth and dies it bears abundant fruit. The blood of the martyrs, and the blood of Jesus, is the seed of the church. Those who bear witness to Jesus Christ, those who wash their robes in the blood of the lamb, will have God wipe their tears away.
We are not all called to die for our faith, but all Christians are called to bear witness to Jesus. We are called to put our faith into action. We are called to serve others, especially the poor. We are called to stand up for the vulnerable even when it is uncomfortable or risky. We are called to follow the one who went willingly to the cross for our sake. In his death the evil powers of the world are judged. In his resurrection the oppressed see new life. In his love all who follow find peace and freedom. May it be so for you and for me.
Thanks be to God.