Daniel 7:1, 9-14
November 4, 2007 - All Saints Sunday
“Got the big fish!” Cathy Grady wrote that on July 21, 1951. She wrote it in an old log book with wooden covers, yellow pages, and the words “Our Guests” carved on the front. Cathy, whoever she is, is the first entry in the book. For my whole life that book has sat in our family cabin in Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona.
I took the book out and paged through it last week while I was on retreat. My great aunt and uncle built the little cottage there in the late 40s and this was the record of their guests. They came from California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Colorado—and one couple from Sussex, England. I didn’t recognize most of the names. But on October 3, 1960 there appears in rough block letters of varying size, slanting down the page, “STEPHEN.” I was four years old. My three-year old sister Helen is there too, with my grandmother’s note to identify her scrawl.
That record of names goes on into the mid 70s. My sister and I several times writing thank you and how many fish we caught. The same for my younger cousins Deb and her brother, who was Jimmy, then James, then finally Jim. Lots of other names only vaguely familiar: Pintarell, Miller, Watson, Garrison, Cox. People connected with our family, now lost to my memory, but remembered in the book. They write about sharing good food, seeing beautiful scenery, swimming in the creek, enjoying good conversation, my aunt’s and grandmother’s hospitality, and over and over, the fish. Big, little, a limit worth or maybe one or two, but they and we were so often there to fish. And we’re all in it, in that old book.
There’s another Book which is much, much bigger. It’s alluded to in the text I chose for this morning’s message on All Saints Sunday. In the prophet’s vision in Daniel 7 beginning in verse 9, God is seated on a flaming throne, with fire flowing out before him. Verse 10 continues, “Thousands upon thousands attended him, ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”
God’s “books” show up throughout Scripture, both in the Old Testament and the New. Sometimes they appear to be what they are here, a record of human deeds to be read off in a heavenly court, where judgment will be made. In this vision the focus is on judgment of the “little horn,” who many interpreters take to be the coming Antichrist. We’re warned about him in the New Testament. Daniel sees all his evil deeds recorded in God’s book. That record will be used to judge Antichrist and his kingdom.
It’s frightening to imagine God writing down everything you and I do, but it’s not at all unbelievable in our age. With blogs and webcams and terabytes of information storage, the possibility of something like George Orwell’s all-seeing “Big Brother” in 1984 seems humanly possible, not just divinely possible. You’ve probably heard about the death last month of Robert Shields, who used mere electric typewriters to record 37.5 million words about every last detail of his life in five-minute segments: what he ate, the light bulbs he changed, the temperature both inside the house and outside the house, the cost of what he bought, the junk mail he received, what happened when he visited the bathroom. He spent four hours a day writing it all down. The Bible says God is doing that for every one of us.
It’s frightening. It’s terrifying to imagine that every last unguarded thought and action, whether picking your nose privately in your room or silently cursing someone you’re supposed to love, is all there. All there, and that book will be opened. Jesus said in Matthew 10:26, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, nothing hidden that will not be revealed.”
Fortunately for us, there is another Book, a volume more like that homely book in our cabin. It’s a book of names. Picturing the last judgment, Revelation 20:12 repeats Daniel’s vision, saying “I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.” It goes on to say, “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” What a prospect! What terror. Everything I ever did is going to be read off and weighed in the balance of divine justice.
But right in the middle of that verse, of Revelation 20:12, is a dazzling sparkle of hope. It says, “Another book was opened, which is the book of life.” Much more than the books of judgment, we find the Bible telling us about a Book which does not record deeds. It doesn’t log what we’ve done. It’s a Book of names. It’s not a compilation of all our sins, but the Story of God’s grace toward those He loves. It shows up first in Exodus 32 as Moses pleads for the forgiveness of his people, for them not to be blotted out of the Book. Jesus mentions it in Luke 10:20 when He tells His disciples not to rejoice in what they’ve accomplished but in the fact that their names are written in heaven. It’s mentioned briefly by Paul in Philippians 4:3 as he notes that two women in the church who disagree with each other are in the Book along with everyone else. In Revelation 21:27 it’s called “the Lamb’s Book of Life.”
It’s a Book of grace, not judgment. It’s a book of life, not death. When I read through that guest book in our cabin, I was filled with all kinds of emotions. Many of the people named there are dead. My great aunt, my grandmother, my mother, who recorded celebrating her fiftieth birthday at the cabin. I ache with memory when I read their names. But there are names there that make me ache in another way. My great aunt’s friend who didn’t like children and told me when I was ten that I had body odor. And an old girl friend who dumped me wrote her name there. They’re all in there. They’re all part of that book.
Everyone saved by the blood of the Lamb is in His Book. Many of them are dead and some of those names, even as we said them this morning, bring tears of loss to our eyes. And some names bring tears of a different kind, tears for the pain they’ve caused us. But the dead in the Lamb’s Book are not dead, and the hurtful in His Book will one day hurt us no more. They will join us in that great crowd of thousands upon thousands around the Throne. And all that will matter is that Jesus died and rose for each of us, and wrote our names in His Book. And we will be brought together and made one, even as we are already together in that great Book of Life.
As you come to the Table this morning I invite you to open your heart and mind to the vista described by Daniel, that huge gathering together of everyone loved and saved by the Lamb. And consider that you are already, right now, written down together with them in His Book. Whether they are alive or dead, whether you like them or not, they are with you, written in the Book where your name is also written.
It’s one Book and one Story of a Savior who loved each of us, despite all the wrongs we have done to Him and to each other. He includes us all. As we participate in His death and resurrection again through the Bread and Cup, may we remember with joy that our names are in that Story. And may we remember with love, and where it is needed, with forgiveness and grace like His, all those other names He has written there with us.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj