by Father Mike Stubbs
Some stains are extremely difficult to remove from clothes. One of the worst is blood. It can ruin a dress or a shirt. It is not a good choice to use as a laundry additive.
So, why does Sunday’s first reading — Rv 7:2-4, 9-14 — claim: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb?” This goes against our experience of the world. That is because the reading is speaking in symbolic terms.
Contrary to our own experience, this blood has turned the robes white. We are not told what color they were originally, but evidently not white. After all, white is not a very practical color. It shows dirt easily. That is why the color white symbolizes purity. It is the color of heaven, not earth.
When Jesus appears transfigured on the mountain in presence of the apostles Peter, James and John, “his clothes became dazzlingly white” (Mk 9:3).
After Jesus rises from the dead, and the women visit his tomb, “they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe” (Mk 16:5). The color white of the robe denotes a heavenly presence.
The people wearing the white robes in our reading from the Book of Revelation are the saints. That is fitting, because this Sunday we celebrate the solemnity of All Saints. The reading does not attempt to give their names, or even to estimate their number: “I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue.”
The reading is making the point that these saints represent a huge number, from all over the church. And doesn’t that describe the church?
I do not pretend to claim that we are all perfect, that everyone in the church is already a saint. At the same time, we are all called to become saints. That is our ultimate goal, to go to heaven and wear white robes — symbolically, of course.
That is why, when we are baptized, when we become members of the church, we are clothed in a white robe. The priest tells us, “Bring it unstained to the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that you may have everlasting life.”
Sin puts a stain on our robe. But fortunately, the Blood of the Lamb — that is to say, Jesus’ blood shed for us on the cross — can make it white again.
Ultimately, we are saved through him. Ultimately, we become saints because of him. That is why we celebrate this feast of All Saints. It is our feast.