Saturday, December 16, 2006

Walk With Me in White

When I was just beginning to embrace a more or less adult faith in my early twenties, returning to the Scriptures and, in general, to a life more in keeping with the grace of my baptism, I remember going to the Book of Revelation, to see how things were to turn out in the end. I guess I was a little disappointed overall, because the prophecies were not as precise as I’d hoped, and I couldn’t make much sense of most of it. But there was something that struck me in the early chapters of the Book, and I remember that I even wrote a little poem about it (though that, for better or worse, is forever lost). It was something that Jesus had said about the worthy.

“They shall walk with Me in white” (3:4), He said to the seer in his message to the Church in Sardis. Somehow that fascinated me then and it still does now. There is something pure and peaceful about that image. It speaks to me of the joyful radiance of the presence of Christ, a radiance that is received by those who love Him and who, having been transfigured thereby, in turn radiate it to others. To walk with Him in white is to “walk in the light, as He is in the light” (1John 1:7). It is to have fought the good fight and run the race, to have arrived in the place of joyful repose and of the assurance that every word He ever spoke was true. It is to have all eternity spread out before us, in which we can stroll through Paradise in complete leisure with the Son of God, with his Mother and the angels and saints. In short, it is to enter into the full enjoyment of the reason of our being, the meaning of God’s creating us in his image and destining us in love to be his children through Jesus Christ (see Eph. 1:5).

What is the context of this saying of the risen Lord? “Yet you still have a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” Here on earth we are enjoined to confess his name, but lo, in Heaven Jesus will confess our names in the presence of the Father and the angels, as those who were faithful to Him in this life, who preferred nothing to his holy will.

But the promise of walking with Him in white is made to those “who have not soiled their garments,” that is, have not defiled themselves by sin. What hope then is there for us sinners? Let’s turn ahead a few chapters, for there is another mystery to explore: “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). A strange image, this. Wash your robes in blood and they become white! Of course, this is figurative language, but the reality is unmistakable. It is not outer garments but our souls that are “soiled” by sin, and it is only the mercy of God, manifested by the sacrificial blood of his only-begotten Son, the Lamb who was slain for our sins, that renews in us our baptismal grace. We were given a symbolic white garment at our baptism, and now through the grace of the death and resurrection of Christ, we are cleansed anew and made worthy to walk with Him in white.

It says of those who had washed their robes white in Blood: “these are they who have come out of the great tribulation.” We do not have to speculate about global upheavals or persecutions by tyrants. Let’s face it, the great tribulation for us is sin, and the tyrant is our self-will! That is what we have to come out of. Neither sword nor famine nor persecution can separate us from the love of Christ (see Rom. 8:35-39). Only our choices can do that; only our embracing of the myriad forms of idolatry this world offers, only by choosing our own will or pleasure over God’s word do we succumb to the great tribulation.

So let us not fear for having soiled our garments. They can be made white in the Blood of the Lamb. Let us only fear to offend his generous goodness and merciful love by our obstinate self-will or clinging to old habits or any other idol that will make us ultimately unworthy of Him. For He wants us to walk with Him in white, to rest from our labors as we enter into our Master’s joy.