You've heard of Six Degrees of Separation. If you haven't, this is a theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of "a friend of a friend" can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. We see this phenomenon take place through social media outlets such as Facebook; which shows us when a friend is requested the mutuality of friendship.
And yet, whether it is by six degrees or 600, the idea of connection will always intrigue us. Small-world experiences give us a sense of security, and they support our deeply held desire for the world to be an orderly and accessible place. We desperately want to be connected to others, so that we won't feel lost in a complex, confusing, cold and often cruel world.
But regardless of the size of our separation from strangers, there is one link in our life that can always be shortened and strengthened: our relationship with God. No kidding--No myth--No degree of separation.
In this search for a shorter link to the Lord, the saints of God can show us the way. In Revelation, John has a vision of heaven, and in it he sees a great multitude from every nation standing before the throne and before the Lamb of God, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cry out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (7:9-10).
These saints are standing in the presence of God, proclaiming that salvation belongs only to God and to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. There is an ancient Latin phrase for their particular position, Coram Deo, which means "before the face of God," or "in the presence of God." To stand Coram Deo is to be aware of God's presence and to be sensitive to the involvement of God in human life. To live Coram Deo is to realize that God is working to forgive, to heal, to strengthen and save us; it is to believe that salvation belongs only to God and to the Lamb!
Coram Deo is, quite simply, no degree of separation.
About the best we can do is practice it. Brother Lawrence, a Christian mystic, suggests that the practice of the presence of God involves the realization that we're constantly under God's gaze. It includes a daily determination to be sensitized to God all around us, to be aware of his sovereignty, to be submitted to his authority. It involves the realization that God loves us, delights in us, and desires a close, personal relationship with us. It's a life, Coram Deo, in the presence of God, one in which we are constantly aware of God's saving actions on our behalf, and one in which our day-to-day actions become nothing less than acts of service to God.
Coram Deo for All Saints: "Out of every nation;" they are "of all tribes and peoples and tongues." The separation brought about by the sin and confusion of earth is done away in Christ. In heaven its effects disappear. There the barrier caused by diversity of tongues will cease. And the final union of all tongues and tribes in the heavenly state will present the true solution of the long-vexed question of the unity of the human race. Every land will yield its tribute of souls to Jesus and will thus prove, in the common destiny of humanity, that God made of one blood all nations of humanity. In the immediate presence of God and the Lamb there will be no Jew and Greek, bond and free, are all one in Christ Jesus. This is done by the work of Christ already given to us on the cross. Christ alone has made them white or new through the expression of robes that denotes character and the habit used of dress. Just as David desired in the 51st rendition of Psalm verse 7, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
Here, David again refers to the spiritual washing required for his cleansing. He makes a deliberate request of God to wash Him, knowing that only the cleansing power of Almighty God can make a man clean and pure. Though his sins have covered him in filth and stained him to the very roots of his being, the washing power of God makes a man whiter than snow.
Real survivors are those who go through the "great tribulations" of daily life knowing God to be their hope of salvation and heaven to be their final destination. They know that in all things they are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. And that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours though Christ Jesus our Lord.
Coram Deo: We come to God through the pathway of common experience; the saints in Revelation come to God "Out of the great tribulation." One and all have had tribulation in some form or other. But they have left it all behind. They are freed from it now. The fact indicated here, that "the great tribulation" was one which touched "all nations, and kindred's, and peoples, and tongues," is of itself subversive of any theory which would limit it to merely partial or local sorrow. The terms of the verse require us to regard the tribulation as widely extended both as to space and time. Our path of tribulation is noted by Christ himself that tells us in Mark chapter eight, "And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's shall save it.'" This is the reality of our sin that is shaped in our iniquity as sinners; but, alas, we have good news in the midst of our common experience Coram Deo as All Saints through our heavenly common redemption.
I Corinthians 1:18 says, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God." The cross stretches out its arms to everybody through our common experience--to the lost, to the vulgar, to the hopeless, to the guilty, to the condemned, to the weary, to the tormented, to the drunkard. The atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus availed for them all. The cleansing virtue of a Savior's grace purified them all. "They washed their robes." In their earthly life they experienced this sanctifying grace. The lesson for those who are Saints past, present and future is the death of Christ has a world-wide meaning.
We fulfill this meaning when we touch God and realize our imperfection, and we humble ourselves to confess our sins and ask for God's gracious mercy. To me it's like a story I heard regarding the realities of being sinful, yet righteous for Lutherans. It's the simul iustus et peccatur--simultaneously righteous yet sinner. Through this growing awareness and activity, we move ever closer to enjoying no degree of separation.
Violet Asquith was once sitting next to the great Winston Churchill at a dinner party. She said that he sat there for a long time and said very little. She reported that he seemed to be in deep thought. Then he became aware of his environment and began to recognize that she was there. At that point, he turned and asked her how old she was. She told him that she was nineteen years of age. He told her that he was 32 years old. Then he said, "Curse ruthless time! Curse our mortality. How cruelly short is the allotted span for all we must cram into it!" He then went on to speak at length about the shortness of life and ended by saying, "We are all worms. But I do believe that I am a glowworm." We are worms condemned to death; but through the perpetual light of Christ, given to us through our common experience and redemption given only by Christ's completed work, we can celebrate that we are All Saints through Coram Deo.
We can practice Coram Deo to God in authentic worship, where with other believers we lift our hymns and prayers of praise. This corporate song of praise is the glorious hope that provided us with the strength to carry our burdens, with peace to calm our minds, with encouragement to fight our battles. Coram Deo means that the cross we bear is not an emblem of shame...but also of salvation; is not a symbol of guilt...but also of grace; not only a sign of condemnation...but also of justification made possible by God's grace.
The saints of God are those who are standing before the throne and before the Lamb in this life and in the life to come. They are a group of ordinary people--past, present and future--who have an extraordinarily close relationship with God. They are not perfectly sinless people, nor are they especially powerful people, but they are profoundly connected people: men and women who are linked directly to God and to the Lamb, Jesus Christ. This makes them stand out in a world well-known for six or 60 or 600 degrees of separation.
One of the elders in Revelation asks John, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" John shrugs his shoulders, and so the elder answers his own question. They are not necessarily the best and the brightest, the most sophisticated or the most successful, but instead they are the ones "who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (vv. 13-14).
Out of this great ordeal they have come, out of a life of trials and temptations, distractions and interruptions. Although being pushed, pulled and sometimes pulverized by earthly events--job loss, marital problems, and conflict with neighbors--they have done their best to remain close to God through prayer, praise, Scripture study and acts of simple service. They have been bloodied by life, but then washed clean by their faith in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
They--like you--are the saints of God.
1. The Knoxville News Sentinel, May 29, 2003, p. A8.
2. "Why Rules Fail," Dr. Robert R. Kopp, Oct. 1, 2000, p. 5.
3. "The Sherpas," T. R. Reid, May 2003, p.71.
4. Contemporary Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, & Writers. Craig Brian Larson, ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1996), 103.
5. "Can Wal-Mart Get Any Bigger?" Bill Saporito, Time, January 13, 2003, p.42.
Kleinfeld, Judith. "Six degrees of separation: Urban myth?" Psychology Today, March-April, 2002, 74.
Lundy, Ronnie. "Six degrees of Kevin Bacon: ATL Edition," Louisville Magazine, March 1997. Louisville.com/loumag/mar/ bacon.htm.
William Manchester. The Last Lion (Boston: Little, Brown & Co.), p. 387.