Festival of All Saints and Commemoration of Faithful Departed
St. Matthew 5.1-12
01 November 2019
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (St. Matthew 5.4)
Today we honor and remember our loved ones and fellow Christians now in the Church Triumphant on this All Saints’ Day in the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.
For all who have died in the faith, we thank God for giving faithful servants to His Church. Through our remembrance of them, our faith is strengthened as we see and remember the mercy that God extended to His children in their earthly lives. The faithful departed are examples to us by which we may imitate both their faith in Christ and their holy living born out of that faith, according to our calling in life.
But the hymn has its finger on our pulse: we feebly struggle. They in glory shine. They are “so great a cloud of witnesses” surrounding us, unseen by us, cheering us on as we run the race they have already run. But that’s just it. We are still running. They rest in glory.
Jesus knows this. You are the blessed poor in spirit, He has already said in the Beatitudes – You’re in the race of this lifetime, and you run it imperfectly, and you face all the associated pain that comes with living under the cross, but you run a course that our Lord has first run and set out for us. It weaves its way through temptation, trial, the hatred of the world, the testing of the devil and our sinful flesh which clings so closely. It marches right through the cross and facing the grave itself.
And so Jesus says His disciples are blessed mourners. Sin and evil, both in the lives of Jesus’ disciples, and in the church and the world around them, causes us to mourn. Lives are cut short. Plans are dashed. Pain, sadness, and grief come along. It’s quite a hard race we must run. It often doesn’t cut much slack.
Dr. Martin Luther described it this way:
“Therefore simply begin to be a Christian, and you will soon find out what it means to mourn and be sorrowful… You will be hindered and hemmed in on every side, so that you will suffer enough and see enough to make your heart sad.” (LW AE 21:20)
There is Luther’s way of describing a certain human emptiness – to make your heart sad. We live, suffer, and face dying to this life and from this world, to realize we’ve been born in humility and will die that way too.
While we may mourn and have sad hearts, and experience the emptiness of this life, we are not left alone or bereft of any blessing. Jesus promises His baptized, believing disciples, who run the race that He is founder and first finisher of, that He fills and will keep filling our human emptiness. Poor in spirit, inept at running the race? Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven, even now, says Jesus. Mourning and grieving the sin, evil, and death we all face? You will be comforted by God, promises the one who proclaims Himself and proves Himself to be the Resurrection and the Life.
For Jesus has run that race, through death and the grave itself, and finished the race, victorious over it. He was hindered and hemmed in on every side, even wept and mourned the death of His own loved ones, even lay in death’s strong bands Himself. But they could not hold Him – destroying sin through His innocent death on the cross, He took the crown from death’s pale brow forever. He has won the kingdom for us. Now at God’s right hand He stands, and brings us life from heaven. He will when the day of final comfort dawns at the consummation of the age bring us to where He now is, and the sting of death will truly be lost to us forever, it will be something we will no longer know.
So this night we commemorate and give God thanks for the blessed disciples who in glory now shine, the great cloud of witnesses who surround us, pray for us, cheer us on from heaven. We may still mourn their death and miss them greatly. But they if they could speak to us they would encourage us with God’s Word: lay aside the weight of this world and the sin that clings so closely, and run now with endurance the race set before you. Look to Jesus, the founder, finisher, victor of our Christian faith, our Savior, Lord, and greatest friend and comfort: who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorned its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
There, at the finish and consummation of this life, standing with our Lord and seeing Him with our own eyes in our own flesh in the Kingdom of Heaven, with the pall of death that once covered this earth at last gone forever, there God will comfort us beyond all that we now know and imagine.
Today, as you follow Jesus to that final comfort, you have heavenly food to nourish and strengthen you in this poor in spirit, mournful life. You are not alone. Heavenly Jerusalem comes down to you here, uncounted angels and archangels, all the company of heaven we commemorate tonight enrolled in heaven, God the Father who judges you righteous on account of His Son, and Jesus Himself who brings His holy body and blood to purify you and give you a clean conscience – all heaven meets us here, where Jesus fills our emptiness with Himself and gives us a consolation unlike any other. (Hebrews 12.22-24)
You are not alone. You do not run alone. You are blessed by God with His Kingdom and His Gospel Word of promise and comfort, you are part of one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church both seen and unseen, on earth and in heaven. God grant us to finish this race well and faithful with our eyes on our Savior, and so come to that day when we join the happy throng of saints and sing with them in one voice our blessed Redeemer’s song.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +