The Second Reading for Mass on April 21 was from Revelation chapter 7. In John's divine vision, he sees a great multitude of martyrs dressed in white standing before the throne of the Lamb (Christ).
John tells us they are martyrs who come out of the great ordeal. Some translations use the word "distress" or "tribulation" rather than ordeal. A great tribulation was being experienced by the Church in John's day (see Acts 2.10 and Acts 14.22). It refers, in part, to "the time of trial that is going to come to the whole world" (Revelation 3.10).
Some biblical scholars believe it also applies to the great tribulation predicted by Daniel 12.1 and mentioned by Christ in Matthew 24.21.
At any rate, in John's divine vision, there is a great throng of saints before the throne of the Lamb. They worship God continually. Their robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb and made white. We read:
"They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."
Christ will lead those who followed him in this life. The reference to shelter and water reminds me of the beloved 23rd Psalm. It has comforted multitudes of believers throughout the ages. In the midst of tribulations, suffering, tears and sorrow troubled people have found comfort in this psalm.
The imagery is other-worldly. We are limited in our spiritual understanding. The Apostle Paul spoke of this in his immortal chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13): "At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially, then I shall know fully, as I am fully known."
Despite the indistinctness of our spiritual vision (the mirror is so clouded), we are assured that with Christ, we will know. The unanswerable questions that break our hearts in the here and now will finally be answered, and we will understand why our hearts needed to break.
There will be no more deprivation or suffering; the scorching fire of incurable and chronic disease will cease. Our tears will be wiped away by God.
The dark nights of my life in this world will pass away. The dawn and promise of the next world will be forever. The full joy of what I will be is yet to be revealed and no one will be able to take my joy from me. This gives me courage to carry on toward the Celestial City.
The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter touched on the continuing promise of Christ that begins in this world and meets its completion in heaven for those who love and know him.
Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me." He told us that what God has given to him is greater than all else. Christ and the Father are one.
Christ said he will give his sheep eternal life and it will never be taken away. We will finally be whole, we shall be fully conformed to his image; our joy will be complete and permanent.
The Mass spoke so eloquently to me of those things that give the hope that lies deep within me despite disease, disability and sickness. In the Responsorial Psalm we sang in unison: "We are his people; the sheep of his pasture." My heart soared.
Then, as in every Mass, came the blessed Eucharist "the source and summit of the Christian life." I was reminded again of our Lord's words: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6.54).
Here is the great promise of the cross that God gives to humanity. By faith in his Son and what he did at Calvary on our behalf, our sins are washed away. Like the great multitude of martyrs in St. John's vision, the spiritual robes of our lives can be washed in the blood of the Lamb and made white as snow.