In this age, the Church is for the most part hidden. Wherever the Church gathers, you see only the tiniest fraction of her - and this holds even if thousands are gathered in one place for worship! For those thousands, let alone hundreds, are only the visible part of the assembly that butts back into time at that particular spot and moment. But the Church isn’t fractions. She’s the lot, the whole assembly. And so she appears in Scripture mostly in Revelation, where John is blest to receive the vision of how it will be at the end, as the veil is lifted and everyone sees what truly is.
And so the Church shines in today’s first reading: a great multitude, beyond numbering, and from every nation, tribe, people, and language. That’s what we mean by saying “catholic” - from everywhere! And they are gathered as one people, standing before the throne of God and of the Lamb, clothed in white garments, palms of victory in their hands, and crying with a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb!” That is, they confess with one voice that THEY didn’t get themselves there. They were GOTTEN there by the One on the throne and the Lamb. And the elders and the living critters they all fall flat on their faces and worship God and they say the same: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever! Amen!” As John stares open mouthed at the spectacle - a mighty host raised up from the fallen race of mankind - he is suddenly catechized by one of the elders: “Who are these clothed in white? Where have they come from?”
John plays it safe. “Sir, you know.” Comes the answer: “these are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. THAT’S why they are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He shelters them with His presence. They don’t hunger and thirst anymore - they are satisfied. The sun and the heat can’t get to them - for they live in the light of the glory of God. The Lamb in the midst of the throne is their Shepherd; He guides them to springs of living water - they drink the very fountain of deity - and God wipes away all their tears.” All of which is to say: Behold, the Church as she truly is. Now, hidden, but at last revealed in glory unutterable.
In our assemblies we participate in that one gathering of all saints around the Throne, but for us it remains a gathering in faith - even though a reality - but in faith because we cannot SEE it yet. For now, we can only believe. But see it, we will.
That’s what John spoke of in our epistle today. The reason the world does not know us as the children of God is that it didn’t know Jesus as the Child of God, the Only-Son of His Father. Yet that is what we are, and our future glory has not yet even been revealed. We know with the full assurance of faith, that when He appears, when our Lord reveals Himself in glory from heaven at that Last Day, it will not only be HE who is revealed; WE will be revealed as well. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is - the Lamb whose blood has washed our robes and clothed us in His own holiness in the baptismal waters and who fed us constantly with His Gospel promises and the Holy Eucharist. What we have believed and learned to live from here in this age, will be finally visible for all to see. And you will shine as He shines now. For you will be in that visible glory of the Church. To have this hope, this hope of appearing in the very glory of the Son of God, means that we work now on becoming whom He has made us to be. The hope of the glory that awaits, leads even now to a purification of one’s self - no, you don’t get the glory BEAUSE you purify yourself; you purify yourself BECAUSE you get the glory! So what you do in your body now matters. Because you body matters. It is even now, even from the moment of your Baptism joined to Christ and made His member, a temple of the Holy Spirit, and so in your body you seek to glorify the One who will at that Last Day glorify your body with His own glory.
The Church, then, lives in this now and not yetness. Already by faith the coming age and glory are ours. And yet we cannot see them. We cannot see them in the Church’s institutional life. We cannot see them in our own lives. We see instead quite a mess and failures galore. But the Church lives by faith. What truly IS, is what God declares and promises. So it is with the holiness of all the saints. It is not first and foremost a visible holiness in this age; it is a hidden holiness which only begins to peep through in this life, but which will shine without interruption in the age to come.
That now and not yetness shows up in the Beatitudes. Abram was promised a Seed who would bring blessing to all the families of the earth. Jesus is that blessed Seed, and as He sits down with His disciples at the beginning of their time with Him, He opens up that blessedness to them. The now of the blessing is the Kingdom of God, His righteous rule over their hearts and lives. It belongs even now to the poor in spirit - to those who know they have no claim on God - and who are persecuted for the righteousness that they hold to by faith. That’s the first and last of the beatitudes. But still in the future are the rest of them: comfort for the mourning, inheriting the earth for the meek, being satisfied for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy for the merciful, the vision of God for the pure in heart, and the final acknowledgment that they are children of God for the peacemakers. Much lies ahead, and yet all is already ours in the Blessed One. We’ve seen how He has passed from death into eternal life - raised in the very body that bore our sins to death and was raised in incorruption, never to die again and made the source of incorruption for all who trust in Him, who receive His gifts in faith. He is the Guarantor of the Promise, the only Blessed One who bring us from the sufferings of this age into the unspeakable blessedness of the Age to come.
And here stands the Eucharist at the center of it all: here the Lamb in His glory, here the Lamb’s blood that washes clean from sin, here the fountain of the waters of life that we drink and not thirst forever. Here the future given to us already in the present to be our life as we journey towards that unveiling. And so here the saints - all those who are wrapped in the white linen that is blood washed. We gather with them around the throne of God and of the Lamb to chant His praises. You can’t be nearer to them any place on earth than here. The future world is here. Hidden, but present. But one day you WILL see it in all its splendor - the day YOU shine with the glory of Jesus Christ, to whom with His Father and the all-holy Spirit be honor and blessing, now in this age and unto the ages of ages!